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MARCH 19 89 





The Particularities of My Being ... 1 

Suspicion 4 

Transformation of this world ... 4 

The Goodness of Earth/Matter ... 5 

Women 5 

The Particularity of Christology . . 9 



A Web of Being 24 

Creator or Creating? 28 

Re-Imaging the Holy 31 


Fatal Disconnection 37 

The Lie of the Autonomous Self ... 38 

Reiationality Embodied 44 


Community: From Goal to Process ... 53 

Community and Commitment 55 

Community and Transformation . . . .57 


Religious Congregations of Women . . 68 

From Women Religious to Companeras . 69 

Embodied Women 7 4 

Gyn/Affection 77 

Lay and Religious No More .... 81 

Beyond "Congregation" 87 

Sheep in Need of a Shepherd? ... 87 
The Challenge of the Margins ... 91 

Ministering "With" 94 

The Vows and Comparer ismo . . . .96 



In a society and culture slowly awakening to the impact 
of rampant individualism and self-serving action, the quest 
for "community' has become a central focus of life for 
many people here in these United States. In particular, the 
concept has been picked up by the Christian churches as they 
reflect on the communal ' foundation of their faith, as they 
understand it. It is the contention of this paper that much 
of what is both sought and understood as "community" fails 
far short of the commitment to relationships of solidarity 
and empowerment which are essential to the well-being not 
only of humankind, but of the earth itself and of the 
divine/human relationship. 

There are many terms I use in this work which may 
cause some confusion, given that I do not always use them 
in the sense in which they have been traditionally 
understood. Most of these are explained in the body of the 
text. Some seem to need brief explanation at the outset. 
Unless otherwise noted, all dictionary definitions are from 
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary . 

My use of the Spanish word compaherismo embodies the 
need to incorporate into any understanding of community' 


the elements of communal struggle towards a life of full 

dignity and justice for earth and her peoples. Companerismo 

is derived from companera/o, companion, the terms used by 

"communities" of resistance and justice-seeking in Central 

America to describe those brothers and sisters upon whom 

they can count in the struggle for long-term transformation 

of unjust structures. No easy grace abides in compaJierisino; 

no certitude that long-term results will be Seen in one's 

lifetime. Yet companera/os know themselves to be in a long 

tradition of like-hearted companions, past, present and yet 

to come, whose energies nurture and are nurtured by their 

own, and by the presence of the sacred in and among them. 

The term "mutuality" appears in a variety of contexts 

in the current work, always describing an ultimate goal of 

relationships between and among people, people and the 

sacred, the variety of beingness which inhabits our world. 

Margaret Huff's definition is helpful in developing an 

understanding of mutuality: 

Mutuality is not a static state, not a bookkeeper's 
quid pro quo reciprocity, not a lowest common 
denominator bland equality. Mutuality is a 
dynamic process in which all are active partici- 
pants, and in which each may be the initiator of a 
particular aspect of the process at any given time... 

The response may alter the form of the dynamic, or 
its substance, in a minor way... Or the response may 
be a radically different alternative... 

Justice is the primary criterion, not equality. 
So the relationship between a father and child can 
be mutual if it is just, even though it is unequal... 

Justice is empowerment. {Huff 1988b, 2-3) 


The goal of interactions in such reiationships as those 
described by Huff is always towards empowerment of both or 
all parties involved. Mutuality cannot exist, in this 
definition, in relationships in which institutionalized 
power imbalances impede the true growth towards equality of 
the participants. Thus analysis of the institutions of 
sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism and clericalism, to 
name a few, is vital in the search for mutuality. 

I use the term "privilege" to denote the benefits 
accruing to individuals and groups as a result of power 
imbalances which deny those same privileges to others on the 
basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation etc. As a 
woman, I am denied a certain privilege which is extended to 
my brothers by institutionalized sexism. As a white, 
middle-class woman, I benefit from the privileges guaranteed 
by my white skin and relative economic security through the 
institutions of racism and classism. Issues of privilege 
are complex, particularly in solidarity work. Few of us are 
universally "privileged." Yet my sisters' and brothers' 
lack of access to resources I take for granted is a 
continual challenge in terms of the ways in which I use the 
undeniable privilege which is mine. There is no way to give 
up the "privilege,' 1 for example, of advanced education, nor 
is this necessarily a valid goal. The question centers on 
responsible analysis and understanding of that privilege in 
terms of the uses to which I put it. 

Theology has always been written out of the author's 
bias and particularity, regardless of claims of objectivity. 
In Chapter I, then, I explore my_ particular "biases'' and 
particularities from which emerge the questions addressed in 
the rest of the work. In Chapter II, I look briefly at the 
history of dualism and body negativity which has had a 
particularly destructive impact on our capacity to relate as 
embodied beings living in relationship with an organic, 
living world. I re-visit the concept of incarnation in 
Chapter III as it might be more effectively understood as 
"relational embodiment" of the sacred in humankind and all 
creative/creating life. 

In Chapter IV, I turn to the issue of relationship as 
fundamental to fully human (and other) being. In Chapter V, 
I begin a critique of "community" as it has come to be 
practiced and understood. In Chapter VI, I look at the 
previously developed themes in light of my own religious 
congregation, and begin to develop an image of what 
companerismo might look like in such a context. 

It is impossible to cite all of the "sources" which 
have contributed to this work. So many of the concepts 
developed here are the results of conversations, casual and 
more formal, in a myriad of contexts. There are, however, 
persons whose contributions have been profound. 


For the theological energy which not only continues to 
provide continual challenge and nourishment for ray own, but 
which also led me initially to consider undertaking graduate 
theological study, I am indebted to Carter Heyward. For the 
realization that I cannot undertake theological work without 
incorporating the analysis demanded by social ethics, and 
for enabling me to deepen the skills needed for such 
investigation, I thank Beverly Harrison and Katie Cannon. 
For her development of an approach to Feminist Pastoral 
Counselling, which recognizes the relationship of individual 
growth and healing to wider social structures, and for 
nourishing with me the relational space in which this work 
has evolved, my gratitude to Peg Huff. To Demaris Wehr and 
Diane Moore, my thanks for their care in reading and 
responding to my work. 

My deep appreciation also goes to my community, the 
Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, for their nurturance, love 
and trust in supporting me in my theological education, the 
focus of which has been new and more than a little 
frightening in the challenges it continues to pose for me as 
an individual and for us as a group. 

Above all, I am grateful to ail of the above women for 
affirming me when I doubted, for encouraging me in 
acquiring skills I believed were beyond me, for truly being 
companeras. In their faith and presence, women/energy and 
creative challenge, I have been increasingly empowered to 


speak what I must speak, and to claim the right, the 
capacity and the responsibility to move on to the next step 
In their faith and presence I have glimpsed the possibility 
of companerismo. 




The Particularities of My Being 

I begin this thesis, as I do all of my theological work, 
immersed in what seems to be contradiction and paradox. 
Nowhere does this reality become more apparent than in the 
terms I choose to describe my own particularity and my work, 
for I am aware that most of these descriptions will have an 
oxymoronic quality for my readers. Yet still I claim to be 
a radical feminist Roman Catholic woman; a passionate, 
embodied and sexual member of a religious congregation whose 
affiliates profess the traditional three vows of poverty, 
obedience and celibacy; a Christian" woman who claims that 
incarnation and salvation did not happen once and for all 
time and for all people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; 
a student of theology who looks ahead to the probability of 
spending most of her life in the academy yet whose primary 
commitments are to those who live life at the margins of 
church, academy and society in general. With most of my 
sisters with whom I share such seeming anomalies, I ask, Am 
I crazy?" 

The Church Fathers in the Vatican would answer a 
resounding "YES." Worse than crazy, in fact. Deluded and 
deeply sinful. Many of my sisters in community would agree, 
though with more gentleness and perhaps even a doubt or two, 
for in many ways they know and trust me. Fundamentalist 
Christians might shake their heads in disbelief that I would 
dare claim any right to the Christian heritage. And the 
academy would simply shake its collective head and mourn the 
lack of "academic rigor and integrity. 1 ' 

I could leave the Roman Catholic Church, my religious 
community and Christianity itself, yet such an action does 
not, at this point, seem to offer a solution. For each 
institution, as well as causing much pain and struggle, has 
been a part of my growth into who I am today. Each has 
provided an historical location for those who went before, a 
locus of resistance and hope in the face of oppression and 
despair, and thus gives me a past, a lineage of foresisters 
whose lives inform my own. Each has also contributed to the 
disembodiment which is the focus of this thesis, and it is 
this last, in the context of my continuing participation in 
these structures and systems, which challenges me to share 
the responsibility for bringing about life-enhancing change. 
Out of these paradoxical, even contradictory, realities, I 
choose to remain in dialogue, to retain such institutional 
connections . 

Yet I must also live my truth as a sexual, sensual, 

embodied being, despite the conflict in which it places me 

in terms of these institutions in which I continue to locate 

myself. This is the truth which has forced me to clarify my 

people" -- those for and with whom I do my work. I do not 

work for those who hold the power in place in the Church, 

the Academy, or even my own community. The norms which 

emerge from my own particularity, in the context of a 

hermeneutic (interpretive principle) of relational 

embodiment, insist that my people, those to and with whom I 

am accountable, are those who have been pushed to the 

margins of those institutions, and of most of society's 

structures, often by the very systems supposedly set up to 

serve their best interests. With no little trepidation, I 

see my own commitments and accountabilities spiralling me 

towards some of those same margins. But perhaps it is only 

at the margins that solidarity gains meaning and 


A hermeneutic of relational embodiment is rooted in a 

number of "biases" (in liberation theological terms, 

"preferential options") which I claim at the outset. I make 

no apology for the particularity which informs my work, or 

for the commitments (biases) which flow from that 


Particularity is the window of all joy, sorrow, and 
knowledge for all of us.... And while [my 

particularities] limit my truth-claims, they also 
ground and nourish them. (Heyward 1989a, 13) 

My own work, then, is "grounded and nourished" by my 
commitments to suspicion, to transformation of this world, 
to the inherent goodness of earth/matter, and to women. I 
look now at some of my basic presuppositions and 
understandings of each of these realities. 
Suspicion : 

I am suspicious of tradition, truth, scripture, history, 

authority and institutions, especially religious 

institutions. I know that I cannot expect any of these 

generally to support the best interests of my communities of 

accountability. Such institutions are built and maintained 

by power structures which are dependent upon the disempowered 

acquiescence of all those who are defined as "outside" of 

the normative definition. With Mary Anne Tolbert, I believe 

that , 

Feminist hermeneutics is not the deviant, 
subjective position to be contrasted to hermeneutics 
(no adjective), the objective, value-neutral position 
of the group in power. No value-neutral position 
exists nor ever has. Feminist hermeneutics stands over 
against patriarchal hermeneutics, an advocacy position 
for the male-oriented, hierarchically established 
present cultural power system. (Tolbert 1983, 118) 

Transformation of this World : 

All of theology is, overtly or covertly, for better or 

for worse, applied , or at least applicable to the lives of 

earth and earth's people. The "praxis" which is at the 

center of my feminist liberational approach involves 

removing the dichotomy between academic enquiry and the 

"real world. " Thus the distinctions between theology, 

ethics and pastoral psychology become blurred, and in many 

situations are distortions of the relationality of all of 


The Goodness of Earth/Matter : 

I have a deep and passionate belief in the beauty of our 
earth-home, its inhabitants — human and otherwise -- and of 
what I see and know of the wider cosmic realm. The presence 
of the holy is indeed incarnate , embodied in all of 
creation, and our experience of the sacred is through our 
own embodied reality. Earth and all creating/creative 
matter is good, holy and interrelated in its very being. 
Therefore, among my commitments must be a passionate option 
for the earth and all the communities, human and otherwise, 
which she supports. The destruction of the beauty of the 
earth, which is our home and one of our fullest 
manifestations of the holy, is desecration in the most 
complete sense of the word. From a more pragmatic 
perspective, all our work for justice will be for naught if 
in the process we destroy the only home we have upon which 
to live the "new creation." 
Women : 

I place the lives of women, especially those most 
marginalized, at the center of my concern. While 
acknowledging that the experiences of women of color, poor 

women, and women who are battered by their husbands, for 
example, are not mine, I nonetheless hold myself accountable 
for their health and well-being. There are three specific 
communities of women to whom I owe a special degree of 
accountability: my religious congregation, the lesbian 
community and "communities" of poor women. 

My religious community holds my allegiance on a number 
of levels. First, our tradition of seeking "Peace through 
Justice for all of God's people," with a specific focus on 
women, remains a strong and empowering link with past, 
present and future. I am challenged by those who have gone 
before me and left a heritage of prophetic words and action; 
I accept the challenge to assist in holding today's 
community accountable to that heritage. Second, I remain 
committed to the healing of those of my sisters whose 
history in religious life has inflicted on them the pain of 
authoritarianism, scrupulosity and a disembodied 
spirituality. Third, and of most significance for the 
current discussion, I know the joy of sharing with at least 
a group of my sisters radically new and empowering 
possibilities for the future of religious sisterhoods of 
women. The glimpses I have received, in my community, of 
the power of women-bonding indeed has led me to this 
project. These glimpses, fragile and glimmering though they 
may be, lead me to believe that there may be no more power- 
ful! -- or empowering -- reality on this earth than the 


connective power of women-energy. . . and nothing more fearful 
to women themselves or threatening to those holding 
structures of power in place. 

The lesbian community both supports and challenges me in 
exploring issues of embodiment and sexuality in relation to 
community and to my above-named 'bias" in favor of the 
holiness of embodied being. The challenges posed in this 
area range from dealing with issues of homophobia and other 
sexual phobias, in the context of my community, to analysis 
of the cultural phenomemon of compulsory heterosexuality . 
On a deeply personal level, my awareness of the rich gift 
of my own lesbian identity challenges me to explore the 
meaning of faithfulness to a variety of commitments: to the 
Sisters of Peace, to my sisters everywhere and to the woman 
with whom I know the richness of fully embodied love. 

Communities of poor women continue to hold me 
accountable as I recall my years spent working with homeless 
women in Seattle, and as I commit myself to on-going work 
around issues of daily economic survival for such women and 
their children. No, their reality is not mine, but the 
words of Rathryn, Dawn, Terri , Jan and Janis are with me. 
Their lives and experiences give purpose to my work. They 
are my "so what?" when I am in danger of opting for 
theological "academentia" (Daly 1987, 184). 

Clearly, my commitments do not end with the communities 
of accountability with whom I am most personally connected. 

I cannot live in this country and neglect my relationship 
with the people of Central America whose oppression is 
intensified daily by the U.S. government. Time spent in 
Guatemala has given me new connections and relationships 
with individuals there, and with indigenous peoples there 
and in this country in their struggle to maintain a culture 
of relational community from which we all might learn much. 
Correspondence from friend Denise in South Africa brings 
home to me a new degree of awareness of the complexity of 
that struggle for justice. 

This seemingly-endlessly widening circle of commitments 
informs my hermeneutic of relational embodiment. The 
starting point of my enquiry, my theology, my vision of 
creation, is that there is nothing to which I am not in some 
way connected. I continue to grapple with the questions I 
have raised for myself but not by_ myself; for myself but not 
for myself alone. 

As I experience the passion of my response to such 
diverse realities as a lonely Pacific beach or a snow-clad 
mountain, the tears of a father of a "disappeared" daughter 
in Guatemala, a newspaper story about yet another woman 
violently raped or homeless families trying to get their 
children into school, the lusty embrace of my lover or a 
meal shared in community, I know my relationship to each and 
all. Somewhere in the varied experiences and expressions of 
these relational commitments lies the foundation of whatever 


truths and faith-claims I come to own. Here too lies the 
tension of acknowledging the particularity of my experience, 
and at the same time of knowing that I experience life only 
through its relationality . This is where I know most deeply 
the need for true community, as Webster defines it as "mutual 
participation," in the continuing struggle towards greater 
life for all. And this is where I know too the failure of 
so much of what we have named "Christian community" to 
function in an embodied and life-enhancing way. 

The Particularity of Christology 

Traditional Christian communities are rooted in one of a 

variety of understandings of the life and ministry of Jesus 

the Christ... orthodox Christologies . Why, then, do I_ 

choose to do Christology, or, more accurately, to use this 

name at all for what I do? One dimension of the answer is 

that, given the impact of Christology as it has been 

historically understood in Western Christianity, we ignore 

it at our peril. We have no choice but to grapple with and 

attempt to comprehend the implications and influence of the 

message which permeates most of western culture. 

Insofar as biblical religion is still influential 
today, a cultural and social feminist transformation 
of Western society must take into account the biblical 
story and the historical impact of the biblical 
tradition. Western women are not able to discard 
completely and forget our personal, cultural or 
religious Christian history. We will either trans- 

form it into a new liberating future or continue to be 
subject to its tyranny whether we recognize its power 
or not. (Schussler Fiorenza 1983, xix) 

The deep pain experienced today by those who are 
victims of Christian imperialism in its multi-faceted forms 
is testimony to the demonic power of unexamined premises, 
and of historical realities too facilely dismissed when they 
do not appear to offer immediate healing and hope as they 
stand. The abused woman who is counselled by her "pastor" 
to "pick up her cross and follow Jesus" by staying in a 
violent domestic situation all too often has internalized 
enough of such a self-denying "Christianity" that she will 
endure incredible hardship and suffering in the effort to 
"obey." Assisting the woman to leave the situation is 
insufficient, however, without also addressing her need to 
replace a destructive religious ideology with one which can 
affirm her right and power to consider her own life needs 
and wants, and addressing the issue of an abusive pastor. 

There is a degree of accountability I experience as a 
woman with a Christian history and heritage for the pain of 
my abused sisters, of victims of Christian imperialism in 
Guatemala, Asia and here in these United States, of Jewish 
people these past two thousand years. No, I was not 
personally responsible for the atrocities enacted in the 
name of God and/or Christ, as I was not personally 
responsible for the institution and practice of slavery. 
Yet insofar as I benefit from the privilege of being part of 


the dominant culture, ideology or tradition, I share the 
responsibility for maintaining patterns of domination, or 
for participating in their transformation. 

Yet there are other more positive dimensions to my 
imperative to continue working with Christian history and 
Christology. For it is within that tradition that I have 
developed the moral and ethical stances which lead me to my 
work for liberation. My awareness of this reality keeps me 
seeking the roots of that liberating and empowering source 
which has somehow survived, deeply buried beneath the strata 
of institutional Christianity. 

As human beings, we have a basic need for connection 
with our personal and collective pasts. Our past, as women 
in Christianity, is ambivalent at best. Feminist historians 
have worked hard in the effort to determine the extent to 
which Christian history, including biblical history, 
contains seeds of liberation for women. Their efforts range 
from attempts to claim that the bible really was and is a 
liberation document and has simply been mis-interpreted, to 
claims that scripture was patriarchal from its inception and 
women's role and story must be read from what is not 
written. To what extent does the recovery of such a past 
help our efforts at empowering one another in life-affirming 
choices today? And what role, positive or negative, does 
institutional Christianity play in the on-going reclamation 
of women's full religious/spiritual agency? I do not expect 


to answer these questions in the pages of this paper, yet 
the urgency and seriousness with which they are asked by 
women throughout Western Christianity highlights the 
powerful impact still exerted in women's lives by the Jesus 
story, and by their general relationship to their faith 

For it is_ our story. As Rosemary Radford Ruether 
asserts, "We are not in exile but the Church is in exodus 
with us" (Ruether 1985, 172). What are the elements in the 
Jesus story which have proven empowering, if often only in 
their potential, not only for Christians but also for the 
wider earth community? It is the thesis of the following 
pages that the basic impulse present in Christianity (and in 
some other world religions, albeit differently expressed) is 
that of incarnation -- embodiment -- enfleshment -- of the 
divine in all the rich fullness of life which abounds within 
and around the communities of being who share this earth. 

My hermeneutic of relational embodiment, then, seeks to 
re-incarnate the sacred firmly at the heart of human and 
other life in this world, not in a narcissistic manner in 
which the making of God in man's image continues unabated, 
but in the context of something I will call companerismo. I 
borrow this term from the Spanish word for "community" 
because it connotes a richer and less trivialized meaning 
than its now relatively senseless and disembodied English 
equivalent. Companerismo, from the word companero/a, 


conjures no images of cozy togetherness of a homogeneous 
group of like-minded friends. Rather, it brings to mind the 
reality that "community takes on life and meaning when 
people commit themselves to struggle for the sake of 
transforming the communities in which they live" (Boyte, 
1986:23). Before moving into further discussion of how 
companerismo is central to a thesis of incarnation, however, 
it is necessary to reveal the de incarnation which has taken 
place through 2,000 years of Christian history, and to re- 
examine the implications of a renewed sense of embodiment as 
the essence of the Christian message. 



Ironically, the more emphasis Christianity has placed 
on The Incarnation as a once and for all time event taking 
place in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the more the 
Church has felt it necessary to de- incarnate the rest of 
creation. The original impulse of Christianity, that of the 
embodiment of the sacred in the midst of humankind, was 
clearly reflected in the embodied tradition of Judaism, 
although the Holy One was believed to be too awe-full to be 
gazed upon directly. In this chapter, I will look at the 
ways in which incarnation came to be individualized in the 
person of Jesus, and the spiritualization -- or de- 
incarnation -- which this made possible in the context of an 
already pervasive dualistic woridview. 

Websters dictionary offers four finely nuanced 
definitions of dualism. Three speak of a theory, quality or 
doctrine of reality as composed of two irreducible parts. 
The fourth is of greatest interest to the present 
discussion: "A doctrine that the universe is under the 
dominion of two opposing principles one of which is good and 
the other evil." From the time of Plato, this appears to be 


the definition which has been widely applied, not only to 
the "doctrine of the universe" but also to the "doctrine" of 
the nature of man" and his relationship with his " world, 
and, at least since Augustine, to the doctrines of Christian 

Before going into some of the historical development of 
disembodied dualistic thinking, I want to make clear that 
here again a "hermeneutic of suspicion" is in order. The 
development of dualities was more than a benign attempt to 
make sense out of a confusing world. The division of 
creation into spirit and matter, and the corresponding 
devaluation of the latter and its association with women, 
earth, people of color and other derogated groups, contains 
within it the establishment of mechanisms of hierarchical 
power and control for the continuing self-affirmation of 
those whose experience comes to define the norm, that which 
is of most value, that which is closest to God. This self- 
affirmation of the power- full has come at the expense of 
devastating internalization of their own inferiority for the 
power- less . I am not suggesting that such insidious power- 
based defining has always been on a conscious level. I am 
insisting that the benefits accrued by the power-brokers 
have been a full and adequate incentive to accept without 
question a set of assumptions based on misinformation and 
myth . 


The separation of the soul from the body was central to 

Plato's philosophy. Transcendence of the body, through the 

control of the passions, was the goal of the moral life. 

Plato's concepts of ideal love were spiritualized by being 

totally removed from any reference to material reality or 

sexuality. In fact, the "pure soul" welcomed death as "the 

radical (and desired) decoupling of mind and body" (Flax, 

1983:258). But Plato did not stop at separating mind/soul 

from body: even within the soul is like hierarchical 

ordering : 

Does it not belong to the rational part to rule, being 
wise and exercising forethought in behalf of the entire 
soul, and to the principle of high spirit to be subject 
to this and its ally?... And these two thus reared and 
having learned and been educated to do their own work in 
the true sense of the phrase, will preside over the 
appetitive part which is the mass of the soul in each of 
us and the most insatiate by nature of wealth. (Plato, 
The Republic IV, 441E - 442A) 

Not only did Plato make very clear the relationship of 

ruler and ruled which must exist between the three parts of 

the soul which he identifies. He was also all too clear as 

to which part must be in control. The rational must at all 

times rule the passions. Indeed, it is for the control of 

these passions that the state exists. The well-ordered soul 

is the model for the ordering of household relationships, 

and for the Republic (Flax 1983, 255). And already it is 

clear that the male is the one to be identified with the 

"rational," the one who must be in control at each level of 

society . 


Aristotle, like Piato, identified rational and 

irrational elements of the soul, and deemed it "natural and 

expedient" for the rational to rule over the irrational. 

His observation that this rule of the rational did not 

always occur, especially in women, children and slaves, gave 

further strength to his assertion of the "entitlement" of 

"rational man to the prime exercise of authority (Speiman 

1983). Steeped in the cultural acceptance of woman's 

"natural" inferiority, Aristotle saw them as admirably 

suited to the "lesser" functions which they were performing. 

He simply set about determining a new explanation for why 

this was so, through his elaborate development of a theory 

of "ensoulment" through "vital heat" contained, of course, 

in the male's semen ( Lange 1983). Lange goes on to explain 

the basis on which Aristotle avoids questioning, or even 

acknowledging, his own underlying assumptions: 

Since Aristotle's view of soul (i.e., life) was 
teleological , he saw the nature of living things in 
terms of function or purpose... Thus the type of soul 
of such social groups as women or slaves, according to 
Aristotle, fitted them, not surprisingly, for the 
function which they happened to be fullfilling. 
(Lange 1983, 9) 

Despite the early intimations of a more inclusive 

impulse in Christianity, one more in line with its Hebrew 

roots of appreciation for nature and this world, the 

early church did not long resist the temptation to turn the 

life of Jesus into a spiritualized event. Paul Knitter 

states that "the author of John 1:1-16 was the first to take 


that step which no Hellenistic-Jewish author had taken 

before him, the first to identify the word of God as a 

particuiar person" (Knitter 1985, 180). Rosemary Radford 

Ruether echoes this understanding in reflecting on Jewish 

and early Christian conceptions of messianism. 

Judaism looked to the messianic coming as a public, 
world-historical event which unequivocally overthrew 
the forces of evil in the world and established the 
reign of God. Originally Christianity also understood 
Jesus' messianic role in terms of an imminent 
occurence of this coming reign of God. But when this 
event failed to materialize, Christianity pushed it 
off into an indefinite future, i.e. the Second Coming, 
and reinterpreted Jesus' messianic role in inward and 
personal ways that had little resemblance to what the 
Jewish tradition meant by the coming of the Messiah. 
(Ruether 1983a, 32) 

The spiritualized, individualized concept of a personal 

savior became the hallmark of Christianity when the early 

Christian community lost its sense of rootedness in the 

highly embodied, communal history of the Hebrew people. 

This deincarnation process began early. Knitter 
identifies four "trajectories" which outline a plurality of 
Christologies present in the early Church, all of which 
carry within them the impulse to give an other-worldly 
emphasis to what was originally a highly embodied event (the 
life of Jesus of Nazareth) and to invest in this Jesus, 
increasingly spiritualized as the kerygmatic Christ, the 
once and for all salvation of all peoples. 

Knitter's first trajectory names parousia christologies, 
those that "saw Jesus as the final prophet (and) arose in 


the social context of Jewish apocalypticism with its intense 
desire for the final restitution of God's rule for Israel" 
(Knitter 1985, 176). Secondly, Knitter outlines a divine 
man christology, presenting Jesus as "a divine agent, able 
to perform wondrous deeds" (176). Third are wisdom and 
logos christologies , "which expressed the believers' 
experience of him (Jesus) as the servant, bringer, and 
teacher of divine wisdom" (177). Finally Knitter speaks of 
the paschal christologies which emphasized that "in his 
resurrection, even before the Final Coming, Jesus had 
accomplished everything" (177). 

The major point Knitter seeks to make is that a 
plurality of christologies existed from the earliest days of 
the Church, even preceding the written records of canonical 
scripture. The importance of his observations for this work 
is that within such a plurality of positions lies a 
remarkable similarity in that each of these christological 
perspectives sets Jesus apart from the human condition, 
thus setting in motion the tendency to see salvation and the 
final establishment of the realm of God as outside of and 
apart from human agency in this world. This disassociation 
of the early church from its Jewish roots has been a major 
factor in the anti-Semitism of Christianity through the 
intervening ages. The emphasis on Jesus the Christ as the 
last, perfect "Word of God" has led to an imperialistic 


exclusivisra which continues to deny the possibility of 
genuine dialogue with other faith traditions. 

Given his knowledge of classical Greek philosophy, and 
the Christologies developed in the early Church, it is 
not surprising that Augustine went on to place the 
dualistic worldview in a "Christian" context. After the 
fall of Rome signalled the end of Western civilization as 
they had known it, Augustine and the people of his day had 
to deal with a world where their prior expectations were 
completely overturned. But if life in this world had become 
chaotic and uncertain, there was another yet to come when 
everything would once again be ordered as it should be. The 
goal of the earthly city was still to achieve happiness and 
peace, yet Augustine insisted that this could only be 
"temporal peace, in proportion to the short span of a mortal 
life," in contrast to the peace of the Heavenly City, which 
is a "perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship 
in the enjoyment of God" (City of God, Book XIX, Ch 13). 

We must prepare personally and individually for our 
participation in the "heavenly city," guided, of course, by 
ecclesial patriarchs. Such preparation, for Augustine, meant 
subordinating the lower part of our natures, our bodies, in 
order to elevate the soul which, although capable of being 
tainted by sin, is not corruptible and given to passion as 
is the body. 


Thomas Aquinas, continuing the tradition of his 

illustrious forefathers, accepted unquestioningly the now 

deeply imbedded belief in a divinely ordered hierarchy of 

creation, with body subordinated to soul: 

But it pertains to divine providence, of which divine 
law is but a rational plan proposed by God to man, to 
see that individual things keep their proper order. 
Therefore man must be so ordered by divine law that his 
lower powers may be subject to reason, and his body to 
his soul, and so that external things may subserve the 
needs of man. ( Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk 3 Vol II, 
Ch 121, 2) 

The divinely mandated order of command was in place: God 

over all; man over woman, slave, child, natural world; soul 

over body; reason over passion. The "higher" qualities 

became linked, so that soul, reason and man became 

synonomous , and in opposition to body, passion and woman. 

Clearly, in such a perspective, notions of God mirrored the 

image of the superior qualities. The holy one must, 

therefore, be male yet devoid of passion and body. Any 

sense of such a divinity becoming "incarnate" in fleshy, 

bloody passionate living was out of the question. The 

Incarnation could occur only once, and that once without the 

usual "sinful" sexual encounter to initiate the process. 

Despite the first century condemnation of docetism as a 

heresy, the once-human Jesus came to be seen as a 

disembodied spiritual figure who offered hope for escape 

from this vale of tears into an eschatological realm where 

we would all be released from the trials of physicality. 


The Reformation did nothing to redress the imbalance of a 
Christianity with its heart and mind firmly fixed on the 
afterlife . 

Throughout Christian tradition this work of deincar- 
nation has continued. We have been divided from the holy, 
from one another, from creation, from the integrity of our 
own being by this refusal to recognize incarnation -- the 
heart of our faith -- as the literal embodiment of the holy 



One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like 
a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that 
feeling of being part of everything, not separate at 
all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. 
And I laughed and I cried and I run all round the 
house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it 
happen, you can't miss it. It sort of like you know 
what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my 

Shugi I say. 

Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That's 
some of the best stuff God did. And when you know 
God loves ; em you enjoys 'em a lot more. You can just 
relax, go with everything that's going, and praise 
God by liking what you like. 

God don't think it dirty" I ast. 

Naw, she say. God made it. (Walker 1982, 167) 

Alice Walker's The Color Purple , in particular pages 
164-168, could and probably should constitute a foundational 
text for any theological exploration. Here is a sacred 
canon which expresses an integration of the whole of human 
being and speaks profoundly of true incarnation. In 
Walker's holy story, told through the life experiences of 
Shug and Celie, is an expression of a deeply embodied 
spirituality of reiatedness, of a God folks "come to church 
to share," not find, a God who gets "pissed off" if "you 
walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't 


notice it," a God who is profoundly present and responsive 

in relationship with all that is, and who can both move and 

be moved in mutual relationship (165-167). It is the 

powerfully immanent God described by Starhawk: 

The dark is kind and charged with a friendly power: 
the power of the unseen, the power that comes from 
within, the power of the immanent Goddess who lies 
coiled in the heart of every cell of every living thing, 
who is the spark of every nerve and the life of every 
breath. (Starhawk 1982, xiv) 

However one names the sacred, these words of Starhawk' s 
express poetically and clearly what I am saying when I speak 
of incarnation as the creative potential inherent, though 
ill-expressed, in the strand of Christianity outlined above. 
In this chapter, I will explore the implications of "re- 
incarnating the holy" in three major areas of our lives: for 
our view of ourselves as part of the total web of embodied, 
relational being; for our understanding of concepts of 
creation and creativity; and for our God images themselves. 

A Web of Being 

Earlier, I stated that "earth and all creating/creative 
matter is good, holy and interrelated in its very being." 
Such an assertion insists that an acceptance of humankind's 
place in the midst of the entire realm of cosmic being and 
evolution expands rather than diminishes a sense of awe of 
the sacred power we often call God. 


Our reverence for the holy must expand to include the 
whole numinous universe. What are the relics today? 
We are the relics, the Earth and all beings of Earth 
were there in the core of that exploding supernova. We 
were there in the distant, terrifying furnace of the 
primeval fireball. Not as mere witnesses, either, but 
as central to the event. Our bodies remember that 
event, exulting in the majesty of the night sky precise- 
ly because all suffered it together. The planet is a 
rare and holy relic of every event of twenty billion 
years of cosmic development. (Swimme 1985, 60) 

Human chauvinism, that is, setting humankind at the 
center of life, or, more accurately, the top of an 
hierarchical pyramid of being, has led to a situation where 
we have within our power the capacity to bring an end to 
life as we know it. Not only do we hold the potential for a 
life-ending cataclysmic holocaust in our nuclear silos, but 
we also participate daily in the poisoning of earth, water 
and air, foolishly continuing the 18th Century Enlightenment 
confidence in "man's" ingenuity to rectify whatever damage 
we inflict. 

Christian understanding of stewardship, coming onto the 
scene in the midst of a dualistic worldview which saw the 
material world as something to be subdued and taken care of 
only in the sense of keeping it available to "mankind" for 
"his" own use and purposes, has been violently distorted to 
support the idea of human "mastery" over the environment. 
Sally McFague suggests that an appropriate metaphor to aid 
in addressing such a situation is that of the world as God's 
body (McFague 1987). To see humankind as integrally related 
with that environment, mutually interdependent with it, is 


to challenge traditional notions of incarnation. The planet 

does indeed become a "rare and holy relic. "' 

This is not, however, an invitation to continue the 

historic degradation of the human body, of human 

physicality. On the contrary, to see ourselves as part of 

the immense splendor of the universe is to affirm our human 

being as a divinely constituted element in the whole web of 


Our bodies are not only communities in themselves 
but, even more, communities in relationship with the 
earth. Our bodily fluids carry the same chemicals 
as the primeval seas. Quite literally, we carry 
those seas within ourselves. Our bones contain the 
same carbon as that which forms the rock of the oldest 
mountains. Our blood contains the sugar that once 
flowed in the sap of now-fossilized trees. The 
nitrogen which binds our bones together is the same 
as that which binds nitrates to the soil. 

Our bodies tell us that we are one with the 
whole earth. Our bodies are revelations of God's 
new heaven and new earth. (Nelson 1983, 35) 

Human beings are distinct from, not superior to other 
forms of life. It is important here to keep in mind the 
distinction Catherine Keller (1986) makes among connective, 
soluble and separative selves. In connection, one becomes 
neither absorbed into the other nor remains isolated and 
separate. Rather, one acknowledges connection as the basis 
of being and becoming, and continues the process of growth 
into full selfhood through nurturing those connections which 
enhance such fullness of being. 

In mutual connection, no party is superior to the other, 
although both or all retain their distinctiveness. This 


mutual interdependence, the basic fact of our being, whether 
we claim it or not, is of vital importance for our 
continuing health as a species, as co-earthiings , as a 
planet . 

Such an understanding of ourselves as inherently 
connected and interrelated with the very stuff and matter of 
the universe through our own body-beings, brings with it a 
vastly different sense of our relationship with the world 
around us. Dumping filth into our rivers and oceans becomes 
self-destruction and blasphemy. The deforestation of a 
massive percentage of earth's surface condemns future 
generations of human and other life to probable extinction. 
If even the stones and streams and willows and chipmunks are 
intimately... integrally... related to us, what can justify 
our continuing to treat most of our human sisters and 
brothers as objects to be manipulated for maximization of 
profits and our own "best" interests? 

In such a worldview, historical Christian claims of 
incarnation as a once-and-f or-all event in the person of 
Jesus come into serious doubt. The incarnation -- 
embodiment -- of the holy in material reality can never be 
fully represented by any one person, being or event. To 
make such a claim is to severely limit the creativity and 
potential of the sacred power which beats at the heart of 
the universe, and to allow us to abnegate our mutual 
responsibility for one another and for the planet. To the 


extent that each person, flower, tree or creature unfolds 
into the fullness of its potential, in the community of life 
of which it is an integral part, then that one incarnates 
the presence of the holy and participates in the on-going 
embodiment of creation. 

Creator or Creating ? 

Several years ago, as part of a personal growth seminar, 
I was challenged as part of the process to identify and name 
my own gifts and talents. Later, in the group sharing, a 
number of the participants named "creativity" as a personal 
characteristic of which they were aware in themselves. It 
was not a word that had occurred to me, yet each time I 
heard it repeated a knot deepened in my gut. Two weeks and 
much soul-searching later, I added "creative" to my list. 
Finally I was able to realize that my definition of the 
term -- which included only such exponents of the creative 
spirit as Beethoven, Virginia Wolfe and Monet -- had ignored 
the creativity which surrounded me and yes, even emerged 
from me, on a day to day basis. 

Our western religious heritage carries the 
responsibility for much of our mistrust of our own creative 
powers. The "de-incarnation" which has deeply divided us 
from the sacred potential within and among us as embodied 
beings sharing life in this world has placed both the 


responsibility and the delights of genuine creativity firmly 

in the hands of God the Father. Catherine Keller asks, 

Why is it so stupid, so embarrassing, to imagine a 
creator interdependent with the creation? Quite 
clearly because this God is to stay absolutely self- 
sufficient, independent of the world... Our love is 
absolute dependence; his love an infinite transcen- 
dence. In our culture this God could only take the 
pronoun he. For is this not the ultimately 
separate subject, before whom all humanity (male and 
female) tremble, emasculated and dissolved into the 
role of the feminine dependent? (Keller 1986, 35) 

The concept of a sole Creator in control of all He has 
created has both deadened our creative energies and allowed 
us to relinquish responsibility for any participation in on- 
going creation. As long as we name the sacred power we 
experience in all of being "Creator," we risk falling into a 
dichotomy between the actor and the acted-upon. Naming 
ourselves as "created in the image of God the Creator" gives 
us a mandate to continue the work of creation, but only as 
delegates of the unchanging one who retains the real power. 
This split, I believe, leads to the denial of our 
creative powers and to the abnegation of our responsibility 
for the life we share with human and other beings on this 
earth . 

Working as God's chosen representatives allows an 
avoidance of responsibility from two perspectives. First, 
we can take the position that God the Creator remains in 
charge and so will intervene and not let anything terrible 
happen to "his" creation, whatever we may do. Our other 


option is to adopt a fatalistic attitude which believes that 

whatever happens will be the will of God and thus is outside 

of our responsibility or power to change. 

If the prime activity of God is that of creation and if 

humankind is indeed created in the image and likeness of 

that deity, on-going participation in the work of creation 

is basic to human be-ing. As Dorothee Soelle suggests, 

"co-creation [with God] means a little more" than "planting 

flowers in the garden and feeling good about it" (Soelle 

1984, 38). 

God is "no one" but is rather a transpersonal spirit, 
power in relation, which depends upon humanity for 
good/making justice/making love/making God incarnate 
in the world. To do so is to undo evil. The doing 
of good and undoing of evil is a human act, a human 
responsibility. God is our power to do this. 
(Heyward 1982, 159) 

To address the realities facing our global society today, we 

must depose any god(s) who pretend(s) to stand apart and 

separate from the joys and struggles of everyday, embodied 


It is the premise of this paper that the incarnational 

message of early Christianity was a proclamation that "God, 

the heavenly Ruler, has left the heavens and has been poured 

out upon the earth" (Ruether 1983b, 11). The question might 

well be raised as to whether a God ever did reside in the 

heavens in any reality other than the minds of men -- and I 

use the term intentionally. Keller reminds us that "No 

tenet of Christian theology has stood so firmly -- and with 


so little scriptural justification -- as the divine 
unchangingness" (Keller 1986, 36). But the God who is 
"poured out upon the earth," within the earth, among all the 
species of beings who inhabit the earth, cannot be static. 
It is time to image the sacred power we call God as 
intimately engaged in a creative dance with all being, not 
as creator and created, creator and creation, but as 
creative and creating, together, changing and evolving into 
ever-greater fullness of life. 

This is the image of creativity which needs to be 
redeemed, in relation to the divine, to our own basic 
creative impulses and to the creativity which imbues all 
life and being. Only through unleashing this creative power 
which lies dormant, oppressed, often almost obliterated, can 
we make real the promise of incarnation: the full embodied 
presence of the divine in all life and being. 

Re-imaging the Holy 

I am not claiming that there is no sacred power, which 
many name as "God," beyond the creativity we experience in 
ourselves and one another. To assert that the holy one is 
present nowhere if not in the daily flesh and blood 
existence of the here and now world, that is to say, 
immanent and incarnate, is by no means to deny that there is 
a power of creativity at work which is far beyond our 


capacities to behold or to imagine. What I do claim, 
however, is that traditional understandings of transcendence 
do not enable us to know the God who is present in all 
being . 

The word "transcend" is derived from the Latin 
transcendere, to climb across. I suggest that such a 
meaning might better serve our current discussion than the 
more commonly held view that transcendence implies an 
otherness, separation, a hierarchical superiority which 
soars above and beyond the ordinary. To view transcendence 
as "climbing across" puts it in close connection with 
"incarnation" and evokes imagery of bridging and connection. 
Can we not as validly assert that the above discussion of 
incarnation, which places God squarely at the center of 
embodied being, implies transcendence, climbing across 
the gulf which has been created historically between the 
sacred and the profane? 

Sharon Welch describes how, in Liberation Theologies 

such as that of Gustavo Gutierrez, "transcendence is often 

described in terms of the bonds of solidarity that extend 

beyond individual existence" (Welch 1985, 45). She 

continues : 

"Transcendence" is distinctly historical: it consists 
in the power to overcome given historical conditions. 
Transcendence is expressed as the freedom to resist 
and to overturn oppression. (Welch 1985, 50) 


Viewing the transcendence of an embodied God as a 
creative energy which empowers communities of resistance to 
overcome, to "climb across," the boundaries and barriers 
which separate them from the fullness of life is a far cry 
from the "old patriarch in the sky" who deigns to reach down 
to "his" creation in patronizing pity. This renewed 
understanging of transcendence allows us to see God as one 
whose energy and creativity can indeed permeate all of 
material being throughout the cosmos, in intimate engagement 
with all being in the on-going process of mutual 

This is a God who cannot be kept out of the realm of the 
physical, sensual wonders and delight of the world. 
Starhawk's image of the divine as the "immanent Goddess who 
lies coiled in the heart of every cell" is the holy one whom 
I have known in the hugging of a moss-wrapped tree in the 
rain forest, in immersion in the cold yet eternal waters of 
a lonely Pacific beach, in a midnight hour spent holding a 
wounded friend, in weeping, raging and taking action against 
the injustices which pervade both ecclesial and secular 
social systems, in sharing life, laughter and love with my 
community and friends. 

I propose that Christian fascination with the Jesus 
story is rooted in awe and wonder at just such an idea of 
God fully and completely present in human form, and in the 
rest of creation. 


Cosmologist Brian Swimme maintains that "all communities 
of being are created in response to a prior mysterious 
alluring activity" (Swimme 1985, 49). We respond in such a 
way to the story of Jesus because the "prior alluring 
activity" of the sacred tells us in the depths of our being 
the truth that the Holy One is not separate, not distant, 
not other (even if more) than the life we feel pulsing in 
our own veins, enlivening our relationships, calling forth 
our delight in the beauty of the world around us. This 
could be the ultimate meaning of the life of Jesus. Yet 
our churches are painfully deficient in any such 
understanding or expression of the sacred. How many of us 
ask, with Alice Walker, "Have you ever found God in church" 
(Walker 1982, 165)? 

The shock value of the incarnation as it was expressed 
in Jesus was to make evident to the community of believers 
who would follow him the presence of God in their own lives 
and in all of life around them. Such an understanding of 
the person and purpose of Jesus was and is deeply alarming 
to those who held (and hold) any position of authority, 
either ecclesial or civil. The divine position of 
"mediator" long assumed by clerics and civil rulers is 
effectively undermined if believers begin to take seriously 
their own "god-ness" as bearers of the reality of the holy. 

This renewed awareness of the divine in all of life, and 
its resulting suspicion of institutional religion which 


claims to "carry" such truth within its doctrines, is 
threatening to those who would continue to name themselves 
"Christian." One of the most painful experiences for a 
Christian-identified woman is when she first sees that the 
Church in which she has placed her hope and trust is part 
of, indeed a forerunner in, the structures of oppression 
which have hurt her and her sisters. Women's identity and 
sense of self are intimately connected with their 
relationships. In the absence of authentic spirituality, 
embodied in relational life, many women and men, yearning 
for deep and meaningful relationship with the holy, settle 
for dependency on ecclesial institutions which claim to 
carry "religious truth." Insights which threaten to shake 
one's faith in such institutions become deeply troubling 
and a source of fear. 

But if Jesus' incarnation -- embodiment of the sacred -- 
was "merely" a more conscious understanding of a reality 
that is, or at least can be, true for all human being, what 
makes him "special?" Why should any of us continue to name 
ourselves Christian? I believe that Rosemary Ruether hints 
at the answer when she speaks of particularism as opposed to 
universalism (Ruether 1983a, 38). Ruether contrasts the 
Jewish and Christian notions of universalism. The Jewish 
people, she contends, have consistently seen universalism as 
meaning that their faith has something to contribute to all 
peoples. Never has this meant salvation only through 


Judaism -- proselytism is not a part of the practice of 

Jewish faith. On the other hand, Christianity has, through 

its insistence on salvation only through Jesus the Christ, 

attempted to make universal its own particularity. An 

individualistic, competitive world view has contributed to 

our inability to see two things as different yet not 

necessarily mutually exclusive. Donald Seaton articulates 

clearly and simply a more dialogic possibility: 

Each of us lives by a story. I live by my 
Christian story, and my Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and 
Jewish brothers and sisters live by their stories. 
As we walk down our paths we count on our stories to 
make sense out of what we encounter. This is my 
simple way of talking about the paradigmatic function 
of myth. If one of my companions finds his story 
inadequate at some point on the path, I will be glad 
to share mine with him. And if, at some point, I 
should find my story inadequate, I will be glad to 
have a friend who will share her story with me. 
(Seaton 1985, 21) 

As we move towards more varied and wholistic ways of 

knowing and experiencing the sacred power which moves within 

and among and beyond our full comprehension, we shall also 

be able to let go of the need for certainty and absolutes 

which insist that if one concept is true, all others which 

stand in apparent contradiction must be false. Only by 

discovering such a way of relating to our sisters and 

brothers, including those of other faith traditions, and to 

the exquisite abundance of life with which we share this 

planet, is there hope for our communal survival and 

salvation . 




I believe in God, and... this faith-claim is rooted 
in my experience of humanity. I believe that God is 
our power in relation to each other, all humanity, 
and creation itself. God is creative power, that 
which effects justice -- right relation -- in 
history. God is the bond which connects us in such 
a way that each of us is em-powered to grow, work, 
play, love and be loved. (Heyward 1982, 5) 

In the preceding chapters, I have explored some of the 

theological premises which underlie ideas of both 

incarnation and deincarnation. In particular, I have 

examined the way in which a renewed vision of a theology of 

incarnation speaks of the embodiment of the sacred in all of 

material being. It is time now to turn to the implications 

of such a claim for our life together as embodied relational 

human beings struggling to live freely and fully in 

communion with one another and with the world around us. 

Fatal Disconnection 

In April of 1985, Janice walked out of a women's 
shelter, waved as she passed my window, ostensibly on her 
way to work. Later that same day she found a secluded 
beach, walked out to a lonely rock where she had a last 


cigarette, tied a plastic bag over her head and, already 
unconscious, waited for the incoming tide to end her 
struggle with alienation, depression and images of a future 
which seemed to promise only more of the same. 

Raised by a succession of foster families, Jan did not 
know the exact year or place of her birth. Copies of 
letters she had written, trying to locate her birth 
certificate, gave poignant testimony to the devastation of a 
lack of connection with other human beings in terms of 
family and friends, and even in terms of her own history. 
Radically alone and disconnected, she came to us from a 
hospital psychiatric unit where she had undergone treatment 
following a suicide attempt. 

Jan seemed to be doing "well" - and probably was: well 
enough to take a part-time job for the first time in years; 
well enough, perhaps, to take control of her life in an 
ultimate way - one which removed the dismal prospect of a 
future filled with deadend jobs, loneliness and isolation. 
Did Jan choose the water as her entry point into some 
final... and for her, first... "intimate bond with the 
universe[?]" (Keller 1986, 151) 

The Lie of the Autonomous Self 

Recent feminist scholarship has done much to alert us to 
our long "heritage" which equates the male experience with 


human experience. The focus has, rightly, shifted from the 
nature/nurture controversy to a position which claims that, 
regardless of its origins, the experience of women, and its 
ensuing impact on their self-understanding, differs 
significantly from that of men. Central to that experience 
and self-understanding is the concept of relationship, of 
inter-connectedness . 

The feminist psychologists and psychiatrists at the 
Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies at 
Wellesley College are working collaboratively on a 
psychological theory of Self-in-Relation . Traditional (read 
white male normative) psychological theory has posited that 
the goal of healthy development moves steadily from the 
dependency of infancy toward ever greater autonomy and self 
sufficiency. The women at the Stone Center (Judith Jordan, 
Alexandra Kaplan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene Stiver and Janet 
Surrey) maintain that a healthy self is one which develops 
in the context of what Jean Baker Miller calls "growth 
fostering relationships" (Miller 1986). These women are not 
merely saying that any self is enhanced by quality 
relationships. Their claim is much more radical. They 
suggest that selves develop fully only in the context of 
such relationships. 

The insights upon which the Stone Center women base 
their work arise from the study of women's experience and 
women's lives. 


One way of describing what women do is to say that 
women try to interact with others in ways which will 
foster the other person's development in many 
psychological dimensions, that is, emotionally, 
intellectually and so on... 

Another way to describe this activity is to say 
that women try to use their powers, that is, their 
intellectual and emotional abilities, to empower 
others, to build other people's strength, resources, 
effectiveness and well-being. (Miller 1976, xx ) 

Miller goes on to examine the ways in which women have 

taken on the role of empowerers and bearers of the 

responsibility for relationships for the entire society, 

most specifically for men and children. This capacity, 

which women have developed out of cultural necessity, is a 

source both of satisfaction and of severe limitation. As 

Miller points out, such a focus on nurturing relationship 

for the benefit of others has led to women's self-denial in 

ways that have ultimately diminished their own personhood. 

Given the imbalance of power relationships in western 

society, there has frequently been little mutuality in the 

interactions. Yet Miller suggests that, the course of projecting into women's domain 
some of its most troublesome and problematic 
exigencies, male-led society may also have 
simultaneously, and unwittingly, delegated to 
women not humanity's "lowest needs" but its 
"highest necessities" -- that is, the intense, 
emotionally connected cooperation and creativity 
necessary for human life and growth. (Miller 1976, 

The dependency of men upon women to maintain the 

connections for which they abdicate responsibility has come 

to be experienced by women as meaning that any action which 


serves their own self interest will put the relationship in 
jeopardy. Ironically but not surprisingly, it is this 
"dependency ' of women on relationships which has been noted 
and defined as pathological, not the dependency of men on 
securing the services of a woman to carry this vital social 
function on their behalf. 

Although the Stone Center's work is focussed on women's 
experience, I believe that their insights and research 
strongly suggest that such a relational approach to 
psychological development is not only essential to both 
men's and women's healthy and mutual relating in the world, 
but is fundamental to human and other well-being. If we 
adopt the sense of cosmic connection and interrelatedness 
suggested earlier, relationship is the essence of who we 
are. Autonomy and self sufficiency are revealed as goals 
arising out of distorted power relationships which assume a 
pool of "servants" to supply basic relational needs on 
demand. A self can afford to be "autonomous" only if it has 
access to and control over other non-autonomous selves to 
supply the basic relational matrix which is often 
unacknowledged but is essential to effective be-ing in the 

Carol Gilligan, in researching the moral development of 
women, comes to some of the same conclusions. As in most 
stage theories of psychology, women's moral development has 
usually been seen as limited and incapable of reaching 


ultimate fullness. Beginning with her startling realization 
that Lawrence Kohlberg posited his stages of moral 
development based solely on a sample of male subjects, 
Gilligan explores the different responses received to 
hypothetical moral problems when women are the subjects of 
the study. By exploring the reasoning behind the women's 
responses, Gilligan points to defects in the construction of 
the model rather than in women's ability to make moral 
decisions. Women's "failure," it seems, is their capacity 
to conceive of the moral problem as arising "from 
conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing 
rights and requir(ing) for its resolution a mode of thinking 
that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and 
abstract." (Gilligan 1982,19) Women, and young girls, do 
not separate a moral problem from the relationships 
involved. Very early, they realize that there are few 
solutions to such problems in which no one gets hurt, that 
is, no relationship is endangered. Maintenance of the 
relationship is more important than adhering to an abstract 
principle of justice. The insight of women into the 
ambiguity of such situations has more often than not been 
seen as indecisiveness rather than as a more inclusive and 
wholistic approach to the resolution of moral dilemmas. 

The concept of a self which actually develops in the 
context of "dynamic interaction" appears startling in its 
contrast to traditional psychological notions of self. As 


startling, perhaps, as the above discussion of 
transcendence, or the idea of incarnation as the sacred 
fuiiy embodied in physical being. Yet, in light of the 
theological concepts developed in the first chapters of this 
work, this capacity of women to think and live in terms of 
relationship and connectedness must be reclaimed as the very 
antithesis of pathology. 

This is not to say that the relationships to which I am 
referring consist of eternal togetherness devoid of periods 
of solitude. Yet I believe that it is only when one rests 
securely in the certain truth of her connection to those who 
matter in her life (family, friends, pets, plants, the 
sacred spirit dwelling in ail of them) that she can enter 
into a solitude which is life-enhancing and treasure moments 
of her own company. 

It is important to make a distinction at this point 
between the self denial of which Miller warns and the kind 
of mutual interaction which genuine relationship demands. 
To say that a self develops fully only in the context of 
relationship is not to negate the distinctive character of 
each individual within that dynamic. Janet Surrey describes 
this distinctiveness as differentiation,' which she 
defines as "a process which encompasses increasing levels of 
complexity, choice, fluidity and articulation within the 
context of human relationship." (1985, 8) This is a vastly 
different concept from that of separation. It also stands 


in clear contrast to what Catherine Keller describes as a 
"soluble" self, where the relationship lacks mutuality, and 
the distinctiveness of one party becomes dissolved as she 
(for usually it has been a woman) submerges her own needs 
and concerns in her efforts to meet the needs of those to 
whose well-being she is committed (Keller 1986). 

Yet women's experience has provided a wealth of 
knowledge in the area of relationship, even in its most 
"soluble" form. Woman knows that without relationship is 
nothingness: the vast number of women who remain in abusive 
situations give poignant witness to the perception that any 
interaction is better than none. As with little girls who 
abandon a game rather than see relationship fractured 
(Gilligan 1982, 10), women go to extraordinary, sometimes 
self-destructive lengths to maintain connection. 

Relationality Embodied 

This sense of self-in-relation which pervades women's 
experience and action in the world begins in the reality of 
inter-connectedness which is each human person. The book, 
Our Bodies, Ourselves , (Boston Women's Health Book 
Collective 1976) names a reality which has often been 
submerged in the dualism which has pervaded much of Western 
thought: that our bodies are not something we "have" but are 
part of who we are. The identification of woman with 


bodiliness, that which is of "lesser" value than "pure" 

intellect or spirit, has been the foundation of much of the 

misogyny which continues to pervade our culture, and any 

movement toward reclaiming our body-being needs to take 

careful note of that history. Yet an identification which 

nurtures and treasures our physicality as an inherent 

dimension of our selves is a vital component of 


The body then is my special corner of the cosmos; 
my relation to my body will reflect and rehearse my 
relatonship to everybody and everything else. For I 
encounter the world only as embodied. (Keller 1986, 

Along with our body-connectedness comes awareness and 
integration of the senses. My intentness on the computer 
monitor is relieved by glances at scenes depicting the 
awesome beauty of the Oregon Coast; the hot chocolate which 
stimulates my taste buds warms me within while the fireplace 
warms my back; a Beethoven trio soothes without distracting 
and aromas from the kitchen remind me that I've forgotten to 
eat! In pausing to take note of all these, I am aware that 
the sensations they evoke were present even when I was not 
consciously thinking about them. They are part of who I am 
at any -- and every -- given moment. 

Emotions are another vital part of a relational being, 
even those we prefer, or have been taught, to deny or 
ignore. As women in white western culture, the emotion we 
often find hardest to embrace is that of anger. Jean Baker 


Miller suggests that "the kind of anger which we 
traditionally have postulated as most extreme" -- that is, 
the anger most feared by women themselves, and most feared 
in women by men, was not the original emotion we were born 
with. "Our environment has created it and shaped it into the 
form we know." The culture which "creates" this anger then 
"ascribes anger to a dangerous drive -- ultimately making us 
afraid of ourselves and unable to use our anger to work for 
a better structure" (Miller 1983, 8). 

Beverly Harrison insists that "anger is a mode of 
connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of 
caring." (Harrison 1985, 14) To Harrison, anger is that 
which indicates that something is amiss in the social 
relationships of which we are a part. The very presence of 
anger in itself can provide us with the "energy to act." 

Miller (1986, 5) provides a further vital link as she 
identifies a reality she calls "feeling-thoughts" or 
"thought-feelings." The dichotomy in which our culture 
places these two dimensions of inner life is indicated by 
the lack of a term which adequately embodies both. Sara 
Lawrence Lightfoot speaks of her mother devoting "her full 
energy to the healing of patients, which she sees as 
inextricably bound to the health and sentiments (meaning 
mind and feeling) of the healers" (Lightfoot 1988, 254, 
emphasis in original). In an integrated engagement with 
another person, a book or an idea, both feelings and 


thoughts interplay simultaneously in such a way that they 

too can be distinguished but not separated. 

Body-being-feeling-thought: the pulsating, dynamic 

reality which constitutes human be-ing. The "me" which is 

always but never only in relationship with itself. 

The boundaries of an ocean are its shores, shifting 
continuously and subtly, sometimes gently, sometimes 
tempestuously, partly predictably, never controllably . 
The metaphor suggests an altered notion of ego 
boundary. (Keller 1986, 100-101) 

The metaphor is also powerful reminder of the profound 
and far-reaching relationship which exists between human be- 
ing, other earthlings and our earth-home, and the still- 
wider cosmic reality. In The Universe is a Green Dragon , 
Brian Swimme creatively illustrates the primal activity 
which he calls "allurement," and of which our human loves 
and longings are one expression: 

We must begin with the attraction that permeates the 
entire macro-structure. I'm speaking precisely of the 
basic binding energy found everywhere in reality. I'm 
speaking of the primary allurement that all galaxies 
experience for all other galaxies ... The primary result 
of all allurement is the evocation of being, the 
creation of community... Allurement evokes being and 
life. That's what allurement is. Now you can 
understand what love means: Love is a word that points 
to this alluring activity in the cosmos. This primal 
dynamism awakens the communities of atoms, galaxies, 
stars, families, nations, persons, ecosystems, oceans 
and stellar systems. Love ignites being. (Swimme 1985, 

For Swimme, it is the night sky which permeates his 

being with the sense of allurement of which he speaks: with 

the profound knowledge that no part of be-ing is truly 


separate and apart from his own. For me, it is the ocean 
which is my cosmic connector, where I know my smallness and 
my greatness as part of ail that is. Such "oceanic 
feelings," when evoked, are reminiscent of Audre Lorde's 
description of the erotic as that which "flows through and 
colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and 
sensitizes and strengthens all my experience" (Lorde 1984, 
57) . 

In light of the above discussion, it is clear that 
women have a particular role to play at this point in our 
history in re-incarnating the sacred in true relational 
embodiment. Let me reiterate here that this does not imply 
that women are essentially and by nature more relational 
than our brothers, but rather claims that our culturally 
determined experience has left us holding what Miller refers 
to as "humanity's highest necessities" (Miller 1976, 25). 
Women's role must include a refusal to continue to carry the 
responsibility for maintaining relationality for the rest of 
society. Women must seek contexts in which true mutuality, 
or at least the possibility for its development, exists in 
order that they be left knowing a greater sense of 
fulfillment and self-affirmation rather than once again 
being in a position of denying their own needs and reality 
in the service of others. Of central importance to women at 
this time in white western culture is to determine the 
contexts where their drive for connection with one another, 


with other humans and with all creative being, that is, the 
life of the sacred within them, can be enhanced rather than 

This emphasis on relationship as key to the health and 
well-being of women, children, men and all earthly and other 
being is not a plea to return to an ethic of "niceness" 
which dwells in warm fuzzy feelings of safety and security 
amidst those with whom one feels most comfortable. This 
vital point will be developed more fully as I move into 
discussing the concept of companerismo. 




My dictionary indicates that the words "communion" and 
''community" are derived from the Latin communio, meaning 
"mutual participation." Communion is defined as "intimate 
fellowship or rapport," community as "a unified body of 
individuals" (emphasis mine). These words pervade Christian 
literature yet the reality they supposedly describe escapes 
the experience of most of us, at least in institutional 
Church contexts. I maintain that such an experience of 
mutual participation and intimate rapport has been missing 
from and continues to evade the lived reality of most of us, 
even those who, like myself, continue to profess membership 
in an institutionally structured "community." 

The word "community" evokes images of the "growth 
fostering relationships" spoken of by Miller and her 
colleagues at the Stone Center. Indeed, when Miller 
outlines the characteristics she has identified as central 
to such a relationship, it becomes clear that community, 
rightly understood, is just such a relationship, for growth 
enhancing relationships are by no means limited to dyads: 


Each person feels a greater sense of "zest' (vitality, 

energy) . 

Each person feels more able to act and does act. 

Each person has a more accurate picture of her/himself 

and the other person(s). 

Each person feels a greater sense of worth. 

Each person feels more connected to the other person(s) 

and a greater motivation for connections with other 

people beyond those in the specific relationship. 

(Miller 1986, 3) 

There are few other concepts which are as much 
discussed, pondered and agonized over, written about or 
valued as that of "community." As the individualized nature 
of our culture, which appears to continue unabated in the 
economic, political, educational and even ecclesial 
institutions of our society, as well as in individual lives, 
has led to ever-greater feelings of isolation, loneliness 
and despair, a broad diversity of persons has turned its 
eyes and hopes towards "community" as the solution not only 
to individual loneliness but also to the crucial dilemmas 
that threaten society and life itself. From parish churches 
to groups of business executives, women and men are turning 
to techniques of "community-building" to enhance everything 
from personal well-being to worker productivity to peace and 
disarmament . 

M. Scott Peck's 1987 book, The Different Drum , is a 
testimony to the hope placed in community to answer the 
needs not only of individuals but of a planet in 
intensifying danger of being destroyed by its human 
inhabitants. Peck outlines his own experiences with a 


variety of groups over a number of years and develops a 
stage theory of community development. He accurately 
names the isolated, individualized nature of human life as 
it has come to be lived in late-twentieth century white 
western culture as a critical factor in such global concerns 
as the arms race, and posits the development of community on 
a local level as the first step to addressing such issues. 
Peck speaks of the need to move beyond our rigid patterns of 
autonomy to something he calls "soft individualism," where 
our ego boundaries become flexible and we can "empty" 
ourselves of barriers to genuine communication with those 
both like and different from ourselves. 

Peck's book has many important contributions to make in 
the light of much of the philosophical, disembodied 
discussion of community which often replaces genuine 
engagement with one's embodied neighbors in an effort to 
live in integrity with one another. His emphasis on 
connection and relationship, his insight that differences 
need to be celebrated and claimed as positive, and his 
critique of pseudocommunity provide a necessary corrective 
for much of what passes for "community" today. 

Yet there are problems with both the model and the 
understanding of "community" which Peck develops. These 
difficulties highlight the reality that Peck's work is 
predominantly among white middle to upper class groups who, 
as experience shows all too clearly, will not automatically 


make the leap from experiencing connection with one another 
to taking seriously their interconnected responsibility for 
and with the whole of creative being. Relevant to the 
current discussion are three major factors, each of which 
warrants some further discussion. The first of these is the 
idea that genuine community-building can be an end in 
itself. Second, more often than not these sessions occur 
among strangers who, after the brief time together, will 
never see each other again. Third, Peck does not develop 
a "liberation" methodology which would ensure that his 
workshop participants would expand the circle of community 
which they experience further afield than their own 
immediate circle of like-minded friends. He does not tell us 
just how we move from such group experiences, usually 
occurring among people who, while displaying a certain 
diversity, are of the same or similar race and class and 
often gender, to the transformation of troublesome 
political, economic and social structures. 

Community: From Goal to Process 

In his section on "Crisis and Community" (77-81), Peck 
describes the sense of connectedness and bonding which 
occurs in the face of natural disasters and war, where 
people will tend to look back with considerable nostalgia on 
days which were fraught with tension, uncertainty and often 


extreme physical peril. Although Peck does not fully 
develop this observation, I believe it provides some key 
insights into the reality that community, like love, is an 
energy and movement which emerges out of genuine mutual 
engagement of two or more people, usually when it is least 
expected and seldom when directly sought. Few of us have 
escaped periods in our lives when our intense loneliness has 
sent us in the desperate search of "love" -- and culminated 
in the experience of pseudo-relationships which may or may 
not have provided even a temporary relief but which failed 
to embody anything close to the "growth fostering" 
engagements referred to above. 

The frantic seeking after community in which many 
engage is a similarly doomed enterprise. The plethora of 
"intentional communities" which have emerged and almost as 
quickly died over the past decades give abundant and tragic 
testimony that something more significant than a yearning 
for undefined, mythical "community" must bond a group before 
the kind of mutuality and commitment necessary for on-going 
viability will be evoked in the members. It is an 
expression of extreme privilege to be able to take the time 
and the resources to focus on community as an end in itself. 

It is no accident that the most lasting, dynamic and 
viable communities of which we hear seem to be those which 
form in response to the critical needs of their members, 
such as the de base in Latin America and the 


Black Church communities in these United States. Both the 
definition and means of achieving genuine "community" may be 
something we must learn from those who have been relegated 
to the margins of our local and global society. 

Community and Commitment 

There is no question that a high degree of communion, 
"mutual participation," can occur between persons who have 
never met before and who, after a brief encounter, will 
never meet again. There is a sense, however, in which 
naming such encounters as an adequate or even genuine 
experience of the fullness of community is again an 
expression of privilege. For many of those whom Peck 
describes, who live in the midst of caring family and have 
the resources to provide for their deep relational needs and 
on-going sense of security and acceptance, brief experiences 
of the "community" he describes may provide a needed energy 
boost or short-term empowerment. For a woman such as Janice 
(above), they are woefully insufficient. 

Only within the context of genuine mutuality and 
connection can true community occur. Community has always 
had to include a level of commitment understood in an on- 
going way. The word "commitment" is derived from the Latin, 
committere, to connect, entrust. Commitment is defined as 
an act of committing to a charge or trust; the state of 


being obligated or emotionally impelled (emphasis mine). If 
we take seriously our interconnectedness with all of life, 
as it was discussed above, we enter into "community" not 
only with those we choose to spend an occasional weekend or 
regular evening with, or even those with whom we live our 
lives day by day. We are committed to the "charge," the 
"trust," of taking responsibility for our communion, 
community with all being. We are "emotionally impelled" to 
do so. Commitment, in this understanding, is not "to" 
something external but "with" that of which we are an 
inherent though distinct part. Commitment is no static or 
objective thing . "It is something you do and something you 
are" (Huff 1988b, 2). It is this commitment with community, 
rightly understood, which is the "vocation" of each one of 
us who share life on this planet. The expressions we choose 
to give such commitment will be as varied as the splendid 
diversity of our particular ways of being, yet each will in 
some way connect us profoundly with and through the holy as 
embodied in and among us, and most particularly, among those 
at the margins who have been most violated by the 
disembodied, individualistic violence which has become the 
hallmark of contemporary society. 


Community and Transformation 

Earlier, I claimed that "I do not work for those who 

hold the power in place" but that "my people... are those 

who have been pushed to the margins." (The concept of 

margins will be further developed in the final chapter of 

this work.) From a liberation theology perspective, such a 

focus is not an option but is mandated for all whose 

privilege has been gained at the expense of countless 

millions of devalued and discarded hopes, dreams and lives. 

It is a commitment made in struggle, joy, confusion, love 

and often terror, never easy, always only partially 

realized. But "community" which is not in some way linked 

to the margins and those who have no choice but to occupy 

such a place cannot name itself true "communion." 

We must understand that each of us is able to have 
our own garden only when we cultivate it in the 
context of global interdependency and mutual respect, 
regardless of color, sex, religion, or national size. 
This is why I say that gardening is a serious and 
difficult business!... Gardening has to do with 
companerismo: standing beside one another; being 
of the same company and commitment... 

Another word for compalierismo is solidarity. . , 
Mutuality and solidarity is what companerismo , 
companera. . . is all about. (Benavides 1988, 136) 

This form of solidarity is one piece, missing from 

Peck's description, which is essential to genuine community. 

Sharon Welch, in redefining "transcendence," (above) sees 

community as "participation in a communal struggle for 

liberation" (Welch 1985, 50). Given the variety of meanings 


and understandings of "community" which abound in our 
culture, I maintain that the concept... the reality... under 
discussion here is better named as companerismo. 
Companerismo, from the Spanish word companera/o, meaning 
"companion in the struggle", reflects a strong and vital 
dynamism lacking in most definitions -- and experiences -- 
of "community." Companerismo demands from its participants 
a whole-hearted commitment -- emotional imperative -- to 
accompany one another in the struggle, whatever the cost, 
whatever it takes. Companerismo knows that there are no 
short-cuts and that the road to fullness of life lies only 
in a justice seldom if ever experienced in the reality of 
oppressive structures and unbalanced power relations. 
Companeras and companeros know that, in all likelihood, they 
will not live to see the full results of their labors, but 
because they know the connectedness of life, not only 
present but also past and future, they know joy in 
anticipating greater richness for children born and yet to 
come . 

For in companerismo is that true joy and 
celebration which can occur only in the knowledge that one 
is living with the greatest possible degree of integrity -- 
integration, and that our efforts toward such wholeness 
constitute our embodiment of the sacred. We can celebrate 
our delight in small victories, knowing our inability to 
attain the ideal yet placing our confidence in the holy one 


who will continue to incarnate "holyself" (Huff 1989) in the 
flesh and blood lives of those who come after. 

Companerismo does not exist in sitting in groups 
talking about our own needs or the needs of others, although 
deep sharing of our struggles and joys, in mutual relation 
with our companeras, will undoubtedly occur. Companeras 
know that the myth of "attending to one's own needs before 
one can have anything to give another" is one more example 
of dichotomized thinking. In the mutual interaction which 
occurs in committed struggle together, both realities are 
seen to be inextricably interwoven. 

Companerismo is a dynamic process, not a product, never 
static or even definable, observable only by the fruits of 
its presence. Companerismo is alive and well when the 
citizens of the Philippines gather peacefully to say 
"enough" and overthrow a violently oppressive dictator; 
when women gather in Washington D.C. to demand an end to the 
steady erosion of rights to their own reproductive decisions 
which disproportionately affect the poorest and most 
marginalized among them; when the people of Nicaragua refuse 
to bow down to the imperialistic demands and intervention of 
the United States and the disenfranchised citizens of 
Guatemala and El Salvador organize against the oppression of 
their own governments. 

Margaret C. Huff (Huff 1988a), in a re-examination of 
the concept of nurturing, develops a set of four central 


elements which are helpful in exploring the qualities of 
compaheri smo . 

Huff's first element of nurturing is that of survival. 
Along with physical survival, she includes emotional and 
mental survival It becomes abundantly clear that it is only 
the most privileged among us who can count on having our 
physical survival needs met. Emotional survival depends on 
both unconditional and critical love -- if either kind is 
absent or too predominant, one will become either self- 
centered and narcissistic or other-centered and overly 
submissive (2). Mental survival "depends on learning what 
the particular society expects of you, what the dominants 
consider reality" (3). In the most blatant situations of 
oppression, one's physical survival may also hinge on 
knowing what society expects. 

The second element Huff names is that of empowerment. 
Empowerment, in her understanding, is exemplified in 
"encouraging all... , regardless of race, sex, class, 
or economic condition, to dare to take appropriate risks" 
(4-5). Again, this seems to apply directly to companerismo 
in the sense in which I am using the term. It is in such 
situations of solidarity with one's companions in the 
struggle that one is indeed enabled to "take appropriate 
risks . " 

Solidarity, Huff's third element, means, for the 
privileged, the relinquishing of certain sorts of 


entitlement because of one's commitment to engage in 
activity with, not usually for another (5). It is this 
solidarity that ensures that one's companera/os, those most 
vulnerable, will not stand alone or bear the brunt of 
attacks by the dominant group. 

Finally, Huff outlines an understanding of 
accountability as her fourth element of nurturing. We are 
accountable to those with whom we engage in nurturing, to 
ourselves, for the co-creation of justice, for what we do 
and what we don ' t do ( 6 ) . 

Huff's work is helpful both in making a transition from 
"community" to companerismo and also in outlining some ways 
in which such companerismo must be lived differently by 
groups of the oppressed and those more privileged who would 
stand in solidarity with them. Taking seriously the four 
elements discussed above in the context of justice-making in 
which Huff develops them impels us beyond narrow visions of 
community with a few like-minded friends and neighbors into 
a vision of inclusiveness which can inform an ethic of 
compan en smo . 

Inclusiveness in this concept and experience does not 
mean that every being must be physically present or even 
represented in the group which gathers occasionally or lives 
together day by day. On the contrary, it insists on the 
need for any marginalized group to focus primarily on its 


own particularity in terms of its most imminent oppression. 

As Catherine Keller so powerfully warns, 

"Feminist separatism" is often a homophobic charge 
easily hurled at creative women by those who would 
not think, for instance, of calling Jesus a 
"separatist" when he claims to be in this world but 
not of it, or when he retreats into solitude or to 
his small community of like minded friends. No one 
changes a world, a culture, without practicing modes 
of subversive retreat from it . (Keller 1986, 210) 
(Emphasis added) 

In true companerismo this retreat is always from the 

persons, institutions and situations which perpetuate 

oppression. Retreat is for the kind of nurturance outlined 

above, nurturance which gives the strength and hope needed 

to continue in the struggle. For the oppressed, retreat 

frequently necessitates "exclusion" of representatives of the 

oppressive class, even those who share the commitment to 

overcome the unjust situation. This is a difficult and 

often painful lesson for the privileged to learn. The sense 

of entitlement which comes with belonging to the dominant 

group frequently includes a feeling of having a "right" to 

the friendship and trust of the oppressed, especially if one 

is willing to stand in solidarity. Fracturing of the 

possibility of full relational mutuality is one painful way 

in which oppression injures and limits the oppressor. Care 

must be taken by the oppressor to own the source of this 

injury and not once again to blame the victim for what may 

be a vital and life-enhancing "exclusion." For example, 

white women who may be vehement in claiming "women-only" 


space to do their own organizing work frequently react with 
pain, confusion and even rage when women of color demand the 
same space for withdrawal. 

For the oppressor, however, such "subversive retreat" 
has a different focus. Oppressed peoples never have the 
luxury of leaving the reality of their oppression behind. 
And in our broken and wounded world, where immense suffering 
of humans, animals and the earth itself has been inflicted 
at the hands of representatives of the societal structures 
which provide our privilege, we who do not struggle for our 
daily survival cannot... must not... retreat from the truth 
of the devastated lives of our sisters and brothers, human 
and other. Into our retreat, we must take with us the 
memories and stories, the oppression and wounding, the 
images and tears of the millions whose lives and well-being 
have been sacrificed in the name of progress for the few. 
When I take a day for myself to spend alone or with a friend 
delighting in the quiet beauty of the winter woods or the 
raging of a stormy ocean, I am often overwhelmed both by 
beauty and also by anguish over the ecological destruction 
which threatens the integrity of our earth home, and this 
is as it should be. Immersed in a work of imaginative 
fiction, I cannot but be moved by the quality of the 
relationships between the characters as I compare and 
contrast them to those I observe and participate in day by 
day; this, too, is appropriate. 


Both oppressor and oppressed, in their experience and 
expression of companerismo, must encompass survival, 
empowerment, solidarity and accountability. What I am 
suggesting is that the emphasis might be different in each 
situation. Whereas survival, solidarity, empowerment of and 
accountability to one another are all key for any 
marginalized group, be it the Quiche Indians in Guatemala, 
the residents of Soweto, or lesbians in the church, the 
focus will change depending on the immediate needs of the 
group. For the privileged, however, I suggest that the 
dimension of accountability is the one which needs most 
serious attention, for we must own our accountability not 
only to others of our own group but to all those whose 
misery is ensured by our privilege. This is not an 
invitation to soul-destroying guilt. Rather, it is an 
acknowledgment of our awareness that the interests of each 
one of the wounded ones, those excluded from the privilege 
of the power brokers, are a sacred right; and these sacred 
rights are ensured by our belated realization that our 
Christian claims about incarnation are meaningless unless 
embodied in action which restores the dignity due to every 
being with whom we share the earth. 

Integral to this discussion is the ambivalent reality 
that most of us are both oppressor and oppressed, often 
simultaneously. A distinct polarity does not always 
separate the two groups. June Jordan provides a powerful 


description of the tensions involved in such ambiguity when 

she writes of her vacation in the Bahamas: 

There it is again. Something proclaims itself a 
legitimate history and all it does is track white 
Mr. Columbus to the British Eleutherians through the 
Confederate Southerners as they barge into New World 
surf, land on New World turf, and nobody saying one 
word about the Bahamian people, the Black peoples... 

This is my consciousness of race as I unpack my 
bathing suit in the Sheraton British Colonial... 

We will jostle along with the other (white) 
visitors and join them... as we, Black Americans as 
well as white, argue down the price of handwoven 
goods at the nearby straw market while the 
merchants, frequently toothless Black women seated 
on the concrete in their only presentable dress, 
humble themselves to our careless games... 

This is my consciousness of class as I try to 
decide how much money I can spend on Bahamian 
gifts for my family back in Brooklyn... 

This is my consciousness of race and class and 
gender identity as I notice the fixed relations 
between these other Black women and myself. They 
sell and I buy or I don't. They risk not eating. 
I risk going broke on my first vacation afternoon. 
(Jordan 1985, 40-41) 

Jordan is no stranger to oppression as Black and as 

woman. Yet her consciousness of those realities is brought 

up against her relative economic class privilege compared 

with the women of the Bahamas. In living with the ambiguity 

of our multiple relationships with the systems of 

oppression, we are moved to again acknowledge the presence 

and challenge of a transcendent expression of the holy. 

We see the power of the sacred embodied not only within each 

individual, each species, each culture, each expression of 

the splendid diversity of being, but also transcending -- 

crossing over -- the boundaries between them. Taking 


seriously a commitment to companerismo involves embodying 
that transcendent expression of the sacred as well as the 
immanence of the holy within us. 

I am not implying that such experiences as Peck (above) 
outlines are without value. I am saying that such 
experiences are a glimpse of the possibility of companerismo 
only in as much as they empower and impel participants 
toward ever greater acknowledgment of and responsibility for 
their interdependence with all of life on this planet. If 
this does not occur, the impact of "community," as described 
by Peck, will remain minimal in terms of its potential to 
achieve the kind of transformation which is the only hope 
for our survival as a people, as a planet. 



So far I have considered the biases and particularities 
which inform my work as a feminist liberation theologian, 
the disembodiment which has been a powerful and 
disempowering factor in our Christian history, the 
implications of a hermeneutic of relational embodiment for a 
renewed vision of incarnation, the reality of relationship 
as the essence of being, and comparer ismo as a vital, 
inclusive, dynamic alternative to most inadequate 
traditional conceptions of community. I return now to one 
of the oxymorons with which I began to outline my own 
identity in relationship to the institutions in which I live 
my life. In light of the above discussion, how might a new 
understanding of religious community remove the cognitive 
dissonance from my claim to be "a passionate, embodied and 
sexual member of a religious congregation whose affiliates 
profess the traditional three vows of poverty, obedience and 
celibacy? " 

I begin this exploration by examining briefly some of 
the "traditional" understandings of women's religious 
congregations which continue to pervade current experience 


in varying degrees, according to the individual community 

under discussion. 

Religious Congregations of Women 

In the early days of my novitiate experience with the 

Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, I discovered in a dark and 

dusty corner of the library a littie volume entitled 

Catechism of the Religious Profession . The author warned 

the aspiring religious sister or brother to beware of sins 

indirectly opposed to chastity ( emphasis mine). These 


...the memory: dangerous reminiscences of our past 
life... the heart: tender affections, particular 
f rienaships . . . . the sight: unrestrained liberty of 
the eyes, unguarded giances, indiscriminate reading... 
The hearing: listening with pleasure to improper talk 
or songs, to stories couched in questionable ianguage, 
to sensuous music... the touch: unbecoming caresses 
and other similar demonstrations of affection. 
(Brothers of the Sacred Heart 1954,84,85) 

Although the pages of this small volume provided a great 

deal of material for laughter and entertainment among those 

with whom 1 shared community, they contain directives which 

are the epitome of disembodiment and must be examined in 

light of the number of men and women who have been, and 

continue to be, locked into patterns of isolation, 

scrupulosity and a chilling inability to reiate on a warm 

and human level with those with whom they share life on this 

earth. During the months that followed, I did much 

reflection on questions of intimacy, relationship and 

religious life* Perhaps my passionate concern for re- 


examining the institution of religious life stems from that 
time . 

The second Vatican Council, in its mandate to 
religious communities to re-examine their roots and founding 
purpose and to experiment with more contemporary ways of 
living their commitments, opened the opportunity for women 
in such communities to dialogue and to educate themselves 
around issues of importance not only to their own 
congregation, but to their world situation. Prior to this 
Council, communication between congregations, or among the 
members within one, was limited by regulations governing 
travel, use of resources and personal interaction with 
others. The concept of "particular friendship" is one which 
older members of communties continue to either struggle with 
or laugh at. The reason was never clearly articulated as to 
why it was such a danger for women to develop close and 
meaningful relationships with one another: at best it was 
masked under the direction that one needed only Jesus as 
one's friend, lover, spouse -- and those were the words used 
for that relationship. "within the authority structures of 
the community, such danger " centered in the likelihood of 
becoming attached to one other rather than available to all, 
and of becing distracted from one's relationship with God. 
The ecclesial fathers, who imposed and maintained rigid rules 
around celibacy and general control over the lives of women 
religious, continued in the manner of Augustine and Aquinas 


(above), thus cementing the chain of command which kept 
power and decision-making firmly in the hands of those given 
'divine mandate' to exercise authority over those specially 
called ' to serve God through consecrated celibacy. 

Understandings of celibacy, like the other vows, 
consisted predominantly of a set of rules setting up 
behaviors that were or were not acceptable, as in the 
excerpt above. Poverty was considered less as simplicity of 
lifestyle than as a series of mandates designed to maintain 
control of the person. Thus poverty of spirit, instead 
of being understood as true humility, most often meant 
humiliation, the loss of self- esteem inherent, for example, 
in having to ask Mother for such basic necessities as 
toothpaste and Kotex, or for permission to write to one's 
family. Obedience meant iiteraiiy doing what one was told. 
The Superior of the institute was not only considered to be 
God's representative in the convent, she was also personally 
responsible for the souls in her care. Of course, this 
responsibility was never ultimate; there was always the male 
hierarchy which exercised final control. 

During the 1970' s and 80' s, a great deal of 
transformation occurred in women religious'' understandings 
of the vows of poverty and obedience, especially here in the 
United States. Women in many congregations maintain their 
own bank accounts and are financially responsible for their 
own needs. In most cases, this responsibility occurs in the 


context of accountability to the group and continues to 
enable care of elderly or ill members, ministry of some in 
areas where no remuneration is available and on-going 
education and sabbatical activities of others. New 
understandings of obedience continue to put women religious 
in this country at odds with the Vatican as women come to 
understand authority not as a set of rules externally 
imposed, but as something which results from their own 
careful listening to the life of the sacred within them, 
among them and in the lives of the people whose dignity and 
concerns are at the heart of their ministerial commitments . 

In the area of celibacy, however, such re-development 
has been limited at best. While few communities still 
retain the prohibition on "particular friendships,' most 
continue to look with some suspicion on deep and committed 
bonding of members with one another, with other women and 
with men. Members who leave communities yet seek to 
maintain some level of connection are charged with 'wanting 
to have their cake and eat it too." They can continue to 
live simply, probably with less access to economic resources 
than they enjoyed as community members; they can remain 
dedicated, obedient members of the church; but if they 
marry, or, worse yet, enter into some other kind of intimate 
relationship, however committed, they are seen as somehow 
being unable to live the full religious life. 


This inability to deal honestly and openly with the issue 
of sexuality, particularly as it is embodied in the lives ot 
real flesh and blood women, is central to the policies, 
promulgated by current Vatican occupants, which are designed 
to keep women in general and women religious" in particular 
disassociated from their own bodily being, from embodied 
relationality with one another and from expressing such 
relationality in solidarity with their sisters througnout 
the world. The terror with which such authoritarian 
institutions perceive the energy which is generated when 
women take seriously their bondedness with each other is 
made manifest in increasingly restrictive rules and 
prescriptions designed to keep women's physical being 
securely under male clerical control. Of particular 
interest here is the degree to which women religious have, 
through their operation of health care and educational 
institutions, developed a high degree of leadership and 
administrative expertise. Since the transformations 
initiated with the Second Vatican Council, members have also 
embarked upon theological education in remarkable numbers. 
These factors do nothing to allay the fears of their 
frequently less competent brothers in Rome... or in their 
local dioceses. 

As in all cases of oppression, women, and women 
religious in particular, have internalized to a large extent 
this perception of the danger of their bodiliness, 


especially when they consider embodying their commitments to 
solidarity with their sisters. The incapacity of religious 
congregations of women to become a truly embodied expression 
of companerismo is a tragic result of this internalized 
oppression handed down from a destructively repressive 
institution. Yet I believe that within such congregations 
lies a seed of possibility for authentic women-bonding. The 
remainder of this work will attempt to work with these seeds 
and explore ways in which they might be encouraged to sprout 
into an abundant fullness which would move us from a concept 
of women's religious congregations'' to one of ' companeras 
embodying the sacred in companerismo. " 

From Women Religious to CompaTieras 

A participant in a workshop I was attending once told 
how, as a child in Catholic grade school, she used to think 
there were three sexes: men, women and nuns. With the 
shedding of the habit in many congregations, especially in 
the United States and Canada, "nuns' have to some extent 
claimed their womanhood as they have explored what it means 
to look like a woman in this society. Along with an 
increased sense of freedom, they have discovered themselves 
no longer immune to the sexual harrassment and degradation 
which historically has plagued their sisters. But what does 


it mean for women religious to claim their womanhood in a 
way that transforms them into companeras? 

There are three areas which are crucial if such a 
transformation is to occur. First, women must renounce 
their fear of, and ambivalence about, their own bodies in 
order to freely and joyfully experience the reality of 
embodied relationality . Second, women within religious 
communities must take seriously the reality which Janice 
Raymond calls "gyn/af f ection" (Raymond 1986). And third, 
the lay/religious split must be systemically eliminated if 
women are to embody in their lived experience their 
commitments to greater mutuality and to justice for all of 
their sisters. 
Embodied Woman : 

A woman conducting a workshop on body awareness for a 
religious congregation posed this question to the group: 
"If someone took a photograph of your community, or even a 
dozen of you, naked, and then cut off the heads, would you 
recognize your own body?" The response of most to whom she 
tells this story is one of laughter. Yet how many women, 
"religious" and otherwise, might find such a challenge 
deeply embarrassing... and very difficult? Even those of us 
who theoretically accept the goodness of material being, 
human and otherwise, have greater trouble acknowledging that 
our own bodily reality is truly a good and holy expression 


of the sacred. We are bombarded in the media by images of 
what a "good'* body iooks like, and we aren't it! 

Not surprisingly, given our negative views of our own 
bodies, for protection and defense we cling to prohibitions 
about sharing those bodies. As we refuse to let others too 
close to us emotionally in case they discover who we really 
are, so we keep our physical distance in order that our 
bodily deficiencies remain undetected -- and so that our 
bodily passions are not aroused. But being a companera 
involves passion, and in an integrated view of being, we 
cannot separate our spiritual, emotional and intellectual 
passions from the passions experienced in our body-being. I 
am not speaking here of the reckless, frequently heart less 
physical abandon which often comes to mind in the wake of 
the so-called 'sexual revolution." I am speaking of that 
passion which has its roots in the same Latin word passio as 
does patience" and "compassion." Passion which means, 
literally, to suffer, from the Latin suffrere -- to 
sustain, to bear up from under (American Heritage 
Dictionary 1969). This interpretation stands in direct 
contrast to concepts of passivity, from passivusj a being 
acted upon from the outside. 

The passion which leads to "a passion for justice" 
(Heyward 1984) has its roots in Eros, the creative power and 
energy identified by Audre Lorde when she speaks of the 
erotic as "a kernel within myself (that)... flows through 


and colors my life with a kind of energy that, heightens and 
sensitizes and strengthens all my experience" (Lorde 1984, 
57). Compare this image with the definition of Eros as 
"aspiring and fulfilling love often having a sensual 
quality.' In contrast, note the definition of cupidity, 
from the Roman god of love, Cupid: 'Inordinate desire for 
wealth." It is not within the scope of this paper to 
enquire into the roots of such divergent understandings of 
"love," but a cursory glance at the daily paper gives ample 
testimony as to which definition pervades the structures and 
institutions which shape our communal life as a society. To 
bring about a renewed sense of "passion for justice" may 
indeed require a societal transformation from Cupid to Eros. 

Companeras participate in this vital process by 
"coming out" with their passions, allowing true "eros" to 
motivate, energize and empower their relationships and 
actions. Companeras are alive with courage -- coeur-rage -- 
heart-rage -- which has nothing to do with Cupid and 
everything to do with Eros. The passionate love of coeur- 
rage refuses to yield to the powers of alienation and claims 
as its core a radical and embodied connection with every 
human and non-human being with whom we share this planet. 
This courage, both raging and erotic, fully embodied in the 
passionate lives of companeras, is the ground of true 
solidarity and companerismo. 


Traditional interpretations of celibacy have given us a 
high degree of protection from such a "dire" eventuality as 
the power which would be released if the thousands of 
"religious" women in this country alone took seriously the 
challenge to ground their "spiritual" lives in acceptance 
and celebration of their own embodiment, and in empowering, 
embodied and passionate engagement with their sisters both 
in community and in the wider church and society. Yet if 
one accepts the notion developed above of the Holy, fully 
embodied in and among the f lesh-and-blood reality of human 
living, then we must accept this truth as part of our own 
embodied being. Incarnation must take place in the lives of 
Gyn/Affection : 

The "call" to religious community has been understood 

in many ways through the years: an act of resistance against 

traditional patterns of patriarchal marriage, a response to 

a felt love of God, often expressed in such terminology as 

"the bride of Christ," and fleeing the evils of the material 

world. I maintain that today, and probably in times past 

to a wider extent than acknowledged, a primary motivation for 

women coming together in community has been that of 

"gyn/af f ection" (Raymond, 1986). 

...Buried deep in the past, present, and future of 
female existence is an original and primary attraction 
of women for women... It is manifested by many 
different women in many different ways. Women who 
have manifested and do manifest this affection for 


women initially care about their Selves and thus 
cherish the friendship of others like their Selves... 
...The original woman (is) the woman who searches 
for and claims her relational origins with her vital 
Self and with other vital women. (Raymond 1986, 5) 

For Raymond, the basic meaning of "gyn/af f ection" 

"is that women affect, move, stir and arouse each other to 

full power" (9). It is this power which is most alarming 

not only to those who are invested in maintaining power 

over subordinates, but also to women themselves. For this 

is not the power lessn ess to which women are accustomed, 

which has a certain pay-off in being able to relegate the 

responsibility to the superior, the Pope or God Himself. 

Gyn/af fective power is, I believe, the connective energy 

which Audre Lorde describes as the erotic (above). 

If fear of one's own bodily passions and sexuality 

remains prevalent among "women religious," fear 

of charges of lesbianism is similarly inhibiting in the 

movement towards companerismo. In common with most of 

institutional Christianity, women in religious congregations 

have been well indoctrinated into the heterosexism which 

pervades western culture. To speak of erotic attachments 

and attraction between and among women is still a taboo in 

many "religious' contexts. Yet Hannah Ward asserts that 

"there are some interesting discussions to be had between... 

feminist nuns and radical lesbians" (Ward 1987, 75). I 

maintain that such discussions are more than potentially 

"interesting" -- they are crucial. 


Adrienne Rich notes that "lesbians have been forced to 
live between two cultures, both male-dominated, each of 
which has denied and endangered our existence" (Rich 1979, 
225). Rich is referring to the wider society with its male- 
defined heterosexist assumptions, and to the gay community, 
largely male dominated. Yet she goes on to say that "in 
spite of this, lesbians throughout history have survived, 
worked, supported each other in community, and passionately 
loved" (225-6). A careful reflection on the experience of 
"women religious" might reveal more similarity than many 
want to consider in terms of the patriarchal context of 
cultural and ecclesial institutions in which we have, 
nonetheless, "survived, worked and supported each other in 
community." The key question, in light of my discussion of 
passionate embodiment, is the extent to which we have 
"passionately loved" -- ourselves, each other, our sisters 
and brothers, the rest of our co-earthlings . 

Embracing gyn/af f ective power means opening our eyes to 
the extent to which our distance from our sisters, most 
particularly those who name themselves "lesbian," is the 
product of a heterosexist patriarchy which knows, but cannot 
afford to let us even guess, that 

It is the lesbian in every woman who is compelled 
by female energy, who gravitates toward strong 
women, who seeks a literature that seeks that 
energy and strength. It is the lesbian in us that 
drives us to feel imaginatively, render in language, 
grasp, the full connection between woman and woman. 
It is the lesbian in us who is creative, for the 


dutiful daughter of the fathers in us is only a 
hack. (Rich 1979, 200-201) 

Rich is aware that her use of the term "lesbian" to 
denote this basic reality in all women is problematic not 
only to women whose basic erotic/sexual orientation is 
toward men, but also to lesbian women who have suffered the 
consequences of claiming eroticism between and among women 
as a true alternative to heterosexuality . Her 
interpretation of the word when she speaks of "the lesbian 
in every women" is, I believe, analagous to Raymond's 
"gyn/af fection . " Both terms invite consideration of a 
powerful primal energy which exists between and among women, 
whether or not they embody such attraction and connection in 
genital sexual encounters. 

Gyn/af fective power is released and celebrated as women 
become companeras by embodying "the full connection between 
woman and woman." This "gyn/af fective" power is the power 
to claim full response/ability for one's agency in the 
world. Such "response/ability" becomes, quite literally, our 
capacity to respond, rather than react, to situations of 
oppression. Companeras who know their own power in relation 
with one another have such ability. Reaction occurs when we 
are disembodied, alienated from our own deepest integrity 
and from our sisters and brothers. Reaction is reflexive 
rather than reflective, and frequently leaves us with 
feelings of inadequacy and uneasiness. Response, on the 


other hand, is made possible by our continuing experience of 
our own wholeness as embodied beings, in relationship with 
our companeras. We are empowered to respond rather than to 
react when, together, we discover what it means to integrate 
our thoughts and feelings in relation to a given situation 
and determine an appropriate response. Our gyn/af f ective 
power, discovered in relationship, also enhances our 
capacity to respond individually, because we know that even 
when we experience a situation of aloneness, our companeras 
are with us in a very real way. The development of this 
"response/ability" is a risky enterprise. As we empower 
ourselves and one another to embody our passion for justice 
in our responses to the persons and institutions with whom 
we live day by day, we realize a new level of 
accountability. Yet as companeras we are freed and 
empowered to do the best we can while maintaining the 
humility of knowing that the task is not ours alone. 
Lay and Religious No More ; 

As the clergy/lay division is beginning to haunt those 
denominations which now ordain women, so a similar division 
between lay and religious has been used historically to 
prevent the empowering bonding of women within Roman 
Catholicism. Relinquishing the habit, dropping the use of 
"Sister" as a form of address, and ministering in situations 
which address the violence experienced by women in poverty 
or abusive relationships have all helped to mute the 


distinction. Yet for most of us, even choosing to live 
among those with whom we work, however marginalized, is 
still a choice wherein we retain access to the resources of 
our congregation, our education and our institutional 
privilege . 

A systemic removal of the lay/religious split would 
entail a much more radical risk. For example, as we 
consider those elements which constitute the core, the heart 
of who we are, we might no longer find it necessary or 
helpful to cling to such distinctions as vowed and associate 
membership. I am not suggesting that there is no place for 
the intentional commitment of groups of women (and possibly 
men) to deeply shared values. What I propose here is that 
the vows as they have been traditionally understood are no 
longer adequate as the basis for that commitment. The time 
has come for religious congregations to re-examine the vows 
as one of the structures which have kept women alienated 
from themselves and each other, and all too often from the 
rest of creative/creating being. Each congregation, indeed 
each "religious," must question the extent to which the 
original impulses motivating the adoption of the three vows 
of poverty, celibacy and obedience are or even can be lived 
with integrity in today's world. 

A renewed look at poverty in terms of a hermeneutic of 
relational embodiment insists upon a valuing and sharing of 
the bounty of the earth in love and concern for all 


earthlings, human and other, as the center of our 

commitment. Our use of resources must take into account our 

own needs, and the needs of our sisters and brothers, human, 

animal, plant, earth, water and air. The survival not only 

of our own species but of earth itself is at stake. The 

violent death of one South African Black will stir our sense 

of outrage -- courage -- and demand our action. The 

grounding of one oil tanker off the Alaskan coast, with the 

resulting devastation of local marine life, will bring home 

to us that the inherent relationality of all being is 

fractured, and must be restored, by human response/ability. 

The particularity of each species will be treasured to such 

an extent that the extinction of any would be recognized as 

an unmitigated tragedy. 

Celibacy, in such a hermeneutic, moves beyond rules and 

restrictions to a commitment to relationships of genuine 

mutuality and deep love which give birth to and nurture the 

life of the sacred among all of the beings involved. 

Celibacy, in this understanding, is a radical way of standing 

in relationship, yet strong in one's own truth and sense of 

self . 

...Celibacy... is not even limited to the condition of 
being unmarried. Celibacy... is that dimension of me 
which can never be given away, exhausted, or comprehen- 
ded. . . It is my integrated character, my interior free- 
dom to love and to receive love. (Gustafson 1978, 4) 

Understood in this light, celibacy is no longer a 

matter of regulating "which bits of the other person I do or 


don't touch with which bits of me" (Ward 1987, 80). The 
criteria for expressing one's embodied reiationality with 
another individual or group are rooted instead in the 
quality of mutuality in the particular relationships, in the 
context of the whole life situation of each/all of the 
persons involved. Central to such criteria are the 
qualities of nurturing discussed above: survival, 
empowerment, solidarity and accountability. Applying each 
of these dimensions, through the lens of committed mutuality 
inherent in relational embodiment, carries the potential for 
liberating and empowering relationships which will in turn 
empower the other relationships in which each person in 

The revitalized understanding of "poverty" and 
"celibacy" invited by a hermeneutic of relational embodiment 
demands a radically new approach to obedience. At the heart 
of such redefinition is our conception of the meaning of 
power. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of 
the word back to the Old French poeir, to be able. By the 
8th Century, however, this word had been supplanted by the 
Latin potere, to be powerful. "Relational embodiment" which 
encompasses an affirmation of the goodness of bodily being 
and the integrity of gyn/af f ection has to do with "being 
powerful" only in the sense of "being able," -- 
response /able . 


The "godness inherent in women '' s iives as compaTieras 
with one another, and with the whoie earth community or 
being, has profound impiications tor traditionai concepts of 
authority. such a chaiienge to their power of office may oe 
the greatest fear of the Fathers of the Church. The 
primordial impulse towards relationships of mutuality, as 
understood and developed by Raymond (1986), Swimme (1985), 
Heyward (1982, 84, 88, 89), Huff (1987, 88a, b) Miller (1982) 
and Surrey (1987) is at the heart of concepts of community 
understood as "mutual participation,'' and of genuine 
authority. Such an understanding is totally incompatible 
with relationships of "power over, where access to 
resources privilege one group over another and the final 
decision-making capacity rests with one party. Tension over 
this issue precipitated Vatican attacks on Raymond 
Hunthausen, whose collaborative administrative style drew 
charges that he "lacked the leadership necessary to rule 
the Archdiocese of Seattle. Latin American Liberation 
theologians, who have encouraged the formation of 
communities of solidarity and mutuality among and with their 
peopie, have also drawn down the wrath of Rome. This same 
issue ultimately will require that religious congregations 
of women and men, who have taken seriously the call to 
renewal of Vatican II, to decide whether to continue the 
struggle toward mutual response/ability and accountability, 
or to yield to the myth of an externally-imposed divine 


authority mediated through the human institution called 

Church . 

Could it be that the struggle for the possibilities 
of relational mutuality is a primordial source'' for 
authority ? . . . an authority that is, by definition 
then, neither simply outside us nor inside us, but 
rather between and among us? . . . "Lines of struggle" 
between... the authority of our own voice... and the 
authority of the voices of others, including those who 
disagree with us. I believe that authority - that 
which (or those whom) we can trust - meets us in the 
relation between and among ourselves. No one of us 
"has" it. It is not a possession. It is dynamic, a 
relational movement. (Emphasis in original.) 
(Heyward 1988) 

Life in companerismo becomes essential for the 

development and implementation of the kind of authority to 

which Heyward refers. A totally subjective and potentially 

relativistic understanding of truth and reality is mitigated 

by insistence upon a constructive relational context in which 

one's own voice is valued along with the voices of others 

(Belenky et al , 1987). The voice of every member is heard, 

valued and needed in the making of decisions affecting the 

life of all. A process of consensus can be developed in 

which no decision is reached without serious consideration 

to dissenting views, even when voiced by a small minority. 

Such an understanding of authority reclaims agency and 

response/ability for human persons in the here-and-now, 

f lesh-and-blood world, and challenges today's religious 

congregations to reflect upon the voices which are not heard 

within their own limited context. 


The lay/religious split is revealed as an artificial 
and dangerous division among women in light of the above 
development of a contemporary interpretation of the 
commitment required by companeras seeking fullness of life 
for all of earth's beingness. If we are to live fully our 
commitment as companeras , we need also to develop a 
structure for doing so in which we refuse to retain the 
ersatz privilege of clinging to institutional affiliation 
over and against our "lay*' sisters and brothers. 

Beyond Congregation 

Sheep in Need of a Shepherd ? 

If "community'" is inadequate as a locus for the 
incarnation of an ethic of embodied relationality , 
"congregation" is still more problematic. The word 
"congregation is derived from the Latin gregaruis , a flock 
or herd, and carries with it all the attendant imagery of a 
mindless mass in need of a shepherd to make decisions and 
take care of the members' best interests. Such imagery is 
captured in the term pastor," meaning "herdsman,' the one 
into whose charge a congregation of believers in a parish is 
given. As women become companeras and "grow up" and into 
fullness in their relationships with one another, so they 
will also "grow up" in terms of their relationship with the 


sacred " companera" whom they call "God," and no longer be in 
need of a shepherd, especially a herds man . 

The scriptural images of the people of God as sheep in 
need of a shepherd need to be carefully considered in terms 
of today's reality of abusive power relationships both in 
the church and in society at large. Members of canonical 
religious "congregations" must analyze the power 
relationships which permeate the structures of their life 
together. In particular, they need to pay careful attention 
to the fact that the isolated instances of greater mutuality 
which they experience from time to time, or even as the 
primary mode of operation in their own immediate context, do 
not negate the overall patriarchal domination and control 
which lies behind institutional Catholicism, as well as such 
other abusive structures in our economic, social, political 
and domestic lives. 

CompaTierismo demands of its adherents that they relate 

in patterns of genuine mutuality with each other. Sarah 

Lucia Hoagland states that community members frequently fall 

into the trap of seeking safety as "an attempt to ease the 

risk of interacting" (Hoagland 1988, 194). She goes on to 

suggest an alternate goal for (in her context) lesbians in 

search of community: 

I want to suggest that, rather than working toward 
safety, we work on taking each other seriously as a 
goal . . . 

... If we are focused on safety, we can be tempted 
to tolerate absolutely anything another lesbian 


does... Yet tolerating absolutely anthing a lesbian 
does may not be taking her seriously at all. It may 
be, rather, confusing empathy with pity, to have no 
expectations of her and hence to regard her as less 
than ourselves... 

In a space in which we are taken seriously, 
"safety" is not defined only on our own terms. Being 
taken seriously involves community; it involves 
engagement with others. (Hoagland 1988, 195) 

As long as any person -- or other being -- is harmed by 

unjust power relations, no one is safe; and all who continue 

to affiliate with the institution involved are to some 

extent complicit in the injustice. For many, withdrawal 

from such institutions constitutes the most authentic 

action. For others, integrity lies in maintaining their 

connection and affiliation in order to attempt to effect 

transformation from within. In reality, it is not possible 

for any of us to withdraw from all oppressive structures and 

systems. For those of us who remain, our accountability 

lies in becoming increasingly aware of, and challenging, the 

patterns of domination and oppression which underlie the 

often seemingly benign actions of those with the ultimate 

power of resource distribution and decision making. As 

companeras, we work in solidarity to create new and 

empowering models of relationship on both a personal and 

institutional level. Such continual self-reflection on the 

nature of our on-going complicity in and action against 

oppressive power relationships is central to life in 



Hoagland's challenge to "take each other seriously" is 
deeply relevant to the current discussion. In their 
relationships with one another, and with those with whom 
they minister, companeras take one another seriously by 
embodying all of the dimensions of nurturing outlined 
earlier. In companerismo, each companera receives what she 
needs for survival and empowerment through knowing 
solidarity with her sisters. At the same time, she is taken 
seriously by being held accountable for her own complicity 
in the situations which are oppressing her and others, 
whether it be an abusive relationship with a sexual partner 
or pain at her felt exclusion from certain ecclesiastical 
functions. In comparer ismo, being held in love and support 
and being held accountable are not mutually exclusive. 
Companerismo exists in the creative tension between the two. 

The centrality of a critical power analysis to any 
attempt to live authentically a life of relational 
embodiment in companerismo has far-reaching implications for 
such religious "congregations" of women as the one in which 
I maintain membership. (The official title of the 
organization is" Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of 
Peace." For current purposes I shall use the term 
Companeras de Paz , ) Three areas demand consideration as I 
explore what a renewed expression of our founding charism of 
"peace through justice" might look like, lived in the 
context of companerismo: the meaning of a preferential 


option for and with those inhabiting the "margins" of 
society; the implications of such an understanding for 
expressions of ministry; and a renewed approach to 
commitment in light of the above discussion of the vows. 
The Challenge of the Margins 

The concept of "margin" -- and its correlatives 
"marginality" and marginalized" -- have been much used and 
mis-used in well-meaning liberal and even radical discourse 
about oppression. From its Indo-European root merg, meaning 
boundary or border, (American Heritage Dictionary 1969) 
"margin" has come to symbolize the place to which those who 
cannot "make it" in our society are relegated. The 
dictionary offers some definitions which aid in re-thinking 
the concept of "marginality" in light of the current 
discussion of companerismo: "the part of a page or sheet 
outside the main body . . . ; a bare minimum below which or an 
extreme limit beyond which something becomes impossible or 
is no longer desirable ." (Emphasis added.) 

Since power analysis is central to the transformation of 
oppressive structures, "marginality" can be conceptualized 
as the result of social and political injustice. As Bell 
Hooks points out, the term "social oppression" is a 
redundancy (Hooks 1984, 5). Being forced to the margins is 
always the result of an act or actions of injustice on the 
part of those who hold the power structures in place. Hooks 
points out, however, that those who inhabit the margins have 


a unique opportunity to perceive the entire social context 

in a whoiistic manner denied to those in power. 

To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but 
outside the main body. As black Americans living in 
a small Kentucky town, the railroad tracks were a 
daily reminder of our marginality. . . Across those 
tracks was a world we could work in as maids, as 
janitors, as prostitutes, as long as it was in a 
service capacity. We could enter that world but we 
could not live there. We had always to return to the 
margin, to cross the tracks... 

...Living as we did -- on the edge -- we developed 
a particular way of seeing reality. We looked both 
from the outside in and from the inside out. We 
focused our attention on the center as well as on the 
margin. . . Our survival depended on an ongoing public 
awareness of the separation between margin and center 
and an ongoing private acknowledgment that we were a 
necessary, vital part of that whole. 

This sense of wholeness, impressed upon our 
consciousness by the structure of our daily lives, 
provided us an oppositional world view -- a mode 
of seeing unknown to most of our oppressors, that 
sustained us, aided us in our struggle to transcend 
poverty and despair, strengthened our sense of self 
and our solidarity. (Hooks 1984, ix ) 

To affirm the perspective gained by those "at the 
margins" is not to diminish the necessity to fight against 
the injustice that created the margins in the first place. 
The power of Hooks' words lies in the experience of a 
community which was able to use such marginalization to gain 
a clearer vision of the oppression being perpetrated against 
it and to use those insights both to strengthen the 
community and to challenge the limitations imposed by the 
surrounding dominant culture. 

Although as women in a patriarchal ecclesial structure, 
the Companeras de Paz may be considered "marginal," from an 


economic, educational and ethnic perspective we retain the 

privilege pertaining to the dominant culture. The challenge 

to us as companeras who try to enbody a commitment to 

"respect the dignity of all persons, to value the gifts of 

creation, and to confront oppressive situations" (Draft 

Constitution 1988, 6) is to choose those "margins" where we 

can stand in solidarity with and be challenged and taught by 

those who understand marginality and power distortion from 

the perspectives discussed by Hooks. 

The weight of suffering and oppression borne by so 
many people today, especially those who are 
economically poor, cries out to us for action. Our 
response demands a firm commitment to work for 
justice in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. 

...We commit ourselves to be involved in 
ministries and action which affect the contemporary 
situation of women in the church and in society. 

...We develop a critical, sensitive conscience 
regarding religious, social, cultural, economic, 
and political realities, and we direct our efforts 
to actions which bring peace through justice. 
(Draft Constitutions 1988, 11) 

Words about solidarity remain solely "words" as long as 

we retain a place of privilege in the institutions which 

oppress us and our sisters and brothers. Yet a commitment 

to become a "margin" people is a risky enterprise. 

Solidarity with women, as mandated in the congregational 

documents of the Companeras de Paz, will inevitably lead to 

friction, and possibly insoluble differences, with the 

ecclesial hierarchy, particularly if we take seriously the 

claims made above regarding the centrality of power 

analysis in all justice work. Solidarity with the poor, 


particularly those who are women, will necessitate the 
continual challenging of societal and political as well as 
ecclesial structures and policies. The "price" may indeed 
be high, potentially including rejection of canonical 
approval, of our tax-free status and of much of our economic 
security, whenever any of these symbols of privilege can be 
retained only at the cost of our own integrity as companeras 
committed to structures of justice and mutual empowerment. 
The "price" for refusing such solidarity means rejecting the 
"wilderness" in which we have journeyed since Vatican II and 
returning to slavery in Egypt (Heyward 1989). 
Ministering With 

Implicit in any understanding of companerismo is the 
acknowledgment that each embodiment of the sacred in this 
world, human and otherwise, has wisdom to contribute which 
is essential to the whole. I am indebted to conversations 
with Margaret Huff in which we explored and developed the 
awareness that we live in companerismo with , minister with , 
make love with , and make commitments with and not to each 
other. Far from being a semantic distinction, the 
difference is central to any understanding of ministry in 
companeri smo . 

Ecclesiastical imperialism will continue unabated as 
long as we speak of ministering tp_ the poor, the lesbian and 
gay community, ethnic "minorities" or anyone else. As 
Companeras de Paz, our challenge is to place the lives of 


such so-called "marginalized" groups at the center of our 
own commitments in such a way that their lives inform and 
challenge our own at the same time that we are challenging 
the structures which maintain such marginality, especially 
those in which we are to some extent complicit. 

Liberation theologians speak of giving a "hermeneutical 
privilege" to the oppressed. By this, they mean allowing 
the experience of oppressed groups to form the basic 
interpretive principles upon which their theological work is 
based. I suggest that the CompaTieras de Paz must give a 
ministerial privilege to those with whom they are committed 
to stand in solidarity. Battered women, for example, must be 
involved in setting the agenda for development of ministry 
programs designed to address their needs. Homes for people 
with AIDS cannot be established without the participation, 
from the inception of the plan, of representatives of the 
high-risk populations whose members will be primary 
occupants. Educational programs to be offered in the inner 
city will be determined in mutual cooperation between the 
service providers and the parents and others who will be the 
major consumers. And accountability for the programs will 
likewise be shared, as evaluation of their success or 
failure addresses the extent to which all parties have met 
their stated goals. 


The Vows and Companerismo 

In recent years, many religious congregations, 
including the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, have adopted a 
new level of membership which is open to a wider 
constituency than Roman Catholic women willing to vow 
poverty, obedience and celibacy. Much of the impetus for 
such a movement has come from women who have "left" their 
congregations for a variety of reasons, yet who continue to 
feel committed to the vision of the group and want to retain 
some formal sense of connection. 

Although the concept of "associate membership," as it 
is sometimes called, presents a way for a certain level of 
association with a variety of persons of different gender, 
lifestyle and religious orientation, it nonetheless 
continues to denote a lay/religious division which prevents 
true companerismo. 

In light of the above discussion of the traditional 
three vows, I ask: is there anything in the commitments to 
engage in tender care for earth and her resources, to enter 
into relationships of genuine mutuality and deep love, and 
to claim the authority and response/ability of life shared 
in companerismo, which do not apply to all people who name 
themselves "religious" -- or Christian? And as I engage in 
conversation, reflection, ministry, creative action, with a 
splendid though "unlikely coalition of justice-seeking 
friends" (Hunt 1986), I believe that the time has come to 


reject as restrictive the vows as they have been 
traditionally stated and understood. Rather, a new 
expression of their underlying truth, one that nourishes 
women's capacity to come together and unleash gyn/af f ective 
power in all of its potential, should be the basis for 
companeri smo . 

Instead of the separation of today's congregations 
into vowed and associate members, I suggest a single form 
of membership which could contain a myriad of equally valid 
expressions of a commitment to embodied relationality in the 
context of companeri smo. Celibate, married, single, lesbian 
and gay persons would mutually decide, with their 
companeras, the particular way in which they would express 
their commitments in their day by day lives in companerismo. 
The Companeras de Paz would continue to share their deep and 
passionate commitment to the justice mandate explicit in 
their historical and contemporary documents. This would 
constitute their "particularity," their own sense of purpose 
and mission. In such a stance, the Companeras de Paz would 
state with their lives what they have written in their 
documents. They would be agents of releasing into a world 
wounded by the tragedy of fractured relationality the 
potential of transformative gyn/af f ective Eros... love... 
power . 

I am aware that the seeds of hope which underlie the 
vision articulated in this work, seeds of the possibility of 


companerismoy flourished in a family which included dog, 
cats and occasionally a parakeet and some goldfish and where 
love and relationship were a "given." They have been 
nurtured in deep and lasting friendships with compaheras 
with whom I have been able to learn the meaning of mutuality 
in both support and challenge. I have been blessed with a 
community in which I have been able to begin to test and to 
live at least some components of what companerismo could be. 
And yes, I have even been fed (occasionally) by a church 
which, while mired in its own patriarchal institutionalism , 
still holds a certain if limited capacity to reflect the 
sense of social imperative inherent in Christianity. 

I am aware also of the debt I owe to such 
"marginalized" beings as the homeless women I worked among 
in Seattle, the indigenas of Guatemala who touched my life 
in the summer of 1988, the ocean and mountains of New 
Zealand and the Northwest United States, my canine friend 
Sugar whose dark eyes meet mine as she nudges my hand to let 
me know it's time for a walk or just a little affection. 
Without the writings of women such as Bell Hooks, Audre 
Lorde and Katie Cannon my unconscious acceptance of my own 
race and class privilege would have continued unabated. The 
work of sisters such as Carter Heyward, Adrienne Rich and 
Beverly Harrison has given me courage to claim my own 
identity in all of its embodied truth and to look with open 
eyes at the institution of compulsory heterosexuality which 


denies the possibility of gyn/af f ection fully expressed in 
lesbian love. 

Such experiences are the "stuff" out of which I, like 
all liberation theologians, develop my work. They are 
always, at best, but partial glimpses of the potential for 
the fullness of life which could be ours should we but take 
seriously the embodied, relational, incarnational impulse of 
the faith we profess. Such glimpses will not transform the 
world, but when sown in the fertile ground of companerismo 
they can provide hope and vision which will take root and 
flourish in the lived commitment of companeras. Vision, of 
course, is only ever a beginning, only ever partially 
realized. But it is. a beginning, a place to start. 

Let the revolution begin! 



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